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Cole Parker

When He Was Five


        When he was 17, he was dating a number of girls.  I asked him why he didn’t just pick one, like so many kids did.

        “Dad, I’m not ready for that.  There are a couple I like a lot, but the problem is, they like me, too.  If I spend much time with either one, I think it’ll get serious.  Real fast.  You probably wouldn’t understand, but if I like a girl a lot and am alone with her, I start getting real horny.  It wouldn’t take much for me to lose it with her.  And I don’t want to do that.  I want to go to college, you know that, and if there’s some girl back here waiting for me, well, I just think it would make it harder.”

        “Most kids, most boys at least, don’t think that way, you know?  They’re all trying to get in girls’ pants.  You’re trying not to.  That’s not normal.”

        “Well, I’m just thinking about the consequences.  You’ve always told me there are consequences to whatever we do, and we need to think about them before we do anything.  So that’s what I’m doing.  Yeah, it’s tough.  And I get kidded about it some.  But it’s not like I’m not dating.  And we make out some.  I like it a lot, maybe too much.  But the girls I go out with aren’t the type that want to go too far on the first date.  So I have lot’s of first dates, and don’t get in trouble.”

        “A lot of boys would tell you you’re crazy and you don’t know what you’re missing.”

        “Yeah, that’s what they tell me.  And maybe I am nuts.  But you’ve always told me sex is better if you’re committed to someone and you love them.  I keep remembering that, and just keep waiting.  It’s hard, but that’s what I’m doing.  Are you telling me I shouldn’t wait?”

        “Absolutely not.  But what I’m telling you, to wait till you find the right person, is what I imagine most parents tell their sons, and most sons just ignore the advice.  I think you’re doing the right thing.  100%.  You know I’m proud of you all the time, Tyler.  It’s because of things like this.  But there’s something else we need to discuss.”


        “What you said.”

        “What did I say?”

        “You said I wouldn’t understand being with someone I like and feeling horny.”

        “Yeah, well. . . .”

        “Well?  You know, just because I’m older, that doesn’t mean I don’t get horny.  It doesn’t mean I don’t get attracted to people, that I don’t think about them and get horny.  I’m not 17 any longer so my hormones aren’t making me crazy like yours.  I don’t get aroused every ten minutes.  But I still get horny.  I’m not in my grave yet, you young whippersnapper you.”  I grabbed him and tickled him.  He was strong, maybe stronger than I was, but he didn’t pull away.  He wriggled and laughed and yelled, but he stayed with me and didn’t pull away.

        ==========  ==========  ===========

        When he was 19, he wrote me every three or four days from college.  I don’t know, but I don’t think that was normal.  I don’t think most college sophomores wrote home that often.  I think most of them wrote home once a semester or when they needed money.  Tyler wrote every week, sometimes twice.  I somehow started to get the sense he wasn’t doing it because he was homesick.  I got the sense he was worried about me being alone.

        I wrote back and tried to fill my letters with humor and upbeat stories of my goings on.  And to myself, I considered things.  They might have been true, his feelings.  Him leaving had been much harder than I’d thought it would be.  The house seemed so empty without his life filling it.  Meals were much harder, both to prepare for just myself and to eat.   I forced myself to get out of the house everyday, even when I didn’t want to go. 

        I went to the park and walked on the paths we’d walked on together.  I sat by the playground and watched some of the kids playing there.  None of them were as handsome as Tyler.  None of them seemed to have his spirit, his life.  They were just kids, playing.

        When his letters would come, I’d make myself a cup of tea and then read them.  Then, I found myself reading them again.  It had been almost 20 years since I’d felt like this.  I might have been slipping.

        He invited me to parents’ weekend.  It was a three hour drive, and I went on a Saturday morning in October.  The air was crisp and smelled of autumn.  I met him outside his dormitory.  He showed me around the campus.  We walked slowly, absorbing the atmosphere.  A lot of kids waved at him.  I mentioned it.

        “Yeah, I’ve made a lot of friends.  Just like high school.”

        “Any special ones?”

        “Uh, yeah, one.  I was going to talk to you about that.”

        “Oh?  What’s his name?”


        “His name is Mary?  He must get teased a lot.”

        “Yeah, right.  We’re going to get together later so you can meet her.  She’s special, Dad.  I think I’m in love with her.  Same with her.  You’re going to like her.”

        “You wrote about several girls.  I remember you mentioning one named Mary.  You took her to a dance, if I remember right.”

        “Yeah, the homecoming dance.  That was our first date.  I’ve been seeing a lot of her since then.”

        “You didn’t mention her in your letters after that first one.”

        “Yeah, well, I don’t tell you everything, you know.”


        “So we’re going to meet her later.  Do you want to see my room?”

        “I’ve seen it.  I helped you move in, remember?”

        “Yeah, I remember.  I had to do all the heavy lifting.”

        “Yer dern tootin’. ”

        “Is that supposed to mean anything?”

        “Well, it did when I was growing up.”

        “That long ago, huh?”


        ==========  ==========  ===========

        When he was 22, the wedding was held in a large church, the most prestigious in town, I imagined.  Her parents had a large estate.  He’d been an investment banker, had become an officer of his bank and was now a leading figure in town.  I wondered how they felt about their only child, a child who had grown up with wealth and status, marrying an adopted kid who had very little money.  I’d asked Tyler, and he said it had never been mentioned.  Tyler himself didn’t think about things like that.

        I had been invited to stay with Mary’s parents for the week of the wedding.  They had lots of room.  The house was enormous.  It felt sort of awkward to me, but I decided to stay with them.  Mary’s mother was very gracious and made me feel welcome.

        The wedding was gorgeous with all the touches befitting an important social event.  Tyler was still the most handsome man you could imagine.  Mary was radiant.  As a couple, they looked like they should be in movies—the ideal couple, an apotheosis for all couples.

        The honeymoon was paid for by Mr. and Mrs. Swanson.  A week in Jamaica.  Snorkeling and other water activities, exploring the island, lavish meals and time alone by themselves. 

        Tyler had taken his college degree in education and was getting a secondary degree in Special Education.  He’d always wanted to help people who faced bigger challenges than the rest of us, and kids with special needs called out to him.  Mary was a finance major and was hoping for a job with a big insurance company or a bank.  She was very bright and motivated.  I thought wherever she went, she’d quickly be a star.

        They came to stay with me for a week after the honeymoon, filling my house with love and life.  I got to know Mary better.  I learned why Tyler had fallen in love with her.  By the end of the week, I had, too, and she’d become my daughter.