Skip -- Part 36
"Not if he dies."
"No, I suppose not. Then someone will need to care for you and Billy. Or you'll just care for each other."
"You don't pull punches, do you?"
"No. He could die. He could live too. You really have to consider both. And if he lives, he might be more needful than he ever wants to be."
We sat quietly for a while. She would not let go of my hand. I would not let go of Billy's either. He slept.
After 11:30 p.m., the ER nurse came in.
"You should wake Billy," she said.
My heart leapt to my throat again. I took a deep breath and then I leaned in to kiss Billy.
"Wake up, love. Skip is out of surgery."
It took a moment for Billy to wake up. "Say again."
"Skip is out of surgery. He's in ICU now."
I turned to the ER nurse. "Can we see him? Is he awake ... alive?"
"Yes you can see him. He's not awake, but he is very much alive."
Patricia and I helped Billy out of bed. His nurse put a robe around him. She walked us to ICU. The accident had been over nine hours ago. Skip had been in surgery for about eight hours. I instinctively knew what the surgery was about. It had been done to me.
"I'll wait out here," Patricia said.
"For a moment or two, but I want him to know you came to be with us. He knows you, so connections are going to be important."
She nodded. She stood by the doorway, watching us. I wheeled Billy over to Skip's bed and then stood beside them. Skip was bandaged, but not as much as I had expected. He had a trach tube and was on a respirator, also expected. I did not want them too, but more tears flowed. A respirator meant that he could not breathe on his own. He clung to life. How many times had I seen this with my patients? It had happened to me, and here I stand. But Skip is not standing. He lay in a bed in ICU, horribly broken.
Skip's attending physician came in. He explained in detail about Skip's injuries. With each one that he ticked off, I felt pain in each area. It could be that I felt Skip's pain. It could be that I felt a shadow of my former pain. Or both. Head, face, neck, spinal column, spinal cord, hips, leg, ankle, foot -- spirit? I thought not. Skip is not a man easily broken, especially in spirit.
What I thought, however, was inconsequential. Skip's thoughts were important. I could not read him as he could read me. Sometimes I was happy about that, like now, because I did not want to feel his pain. It belonged to him alone, and he was the one to fight against it and survive, to become whole again.
The doctor told us we could stay no longer than an hour. It was critical that Skip get complete rest for the next two days. Like I wanted to hear that. But I understood. Billy and I had earlier decided that we would wait until morning to call Betsy and JD.
I looked over at Patricia, still in the doorway. I motioned for her to come in. She did not hesitate. She went to Skip and touched him as gently as I had. She talked to him as if he could hear her. I always believed that someone unconscious or in a coma can hear. I allowed it to be private between them, so I did not hear what she said. I stood near the doorway, hugging myself.
"Come on, let's go home Aaron. You can stay with Fred and me tonight."
I did not fight. Billy could not come home yet, obviously. I had no desire to be home alone. We took Billy back downstairs to his room. I kissed him goodnight and told him I would be back in the morning.
"Our doctor (his and Skip's) says I can come home on Sunday."
Patricia followed me to our place. I packed a duffle for two days and nights. Patricia called Fred to tell him we were on the way home. It was after 1:00 a.m. She asked if he could get the spare bedroom ready for me. He knew why because she had talked to him earlier this evening.
Their home was as I remembered it, but updated. It was still very warm and homey. Fred made us tea as I set my duffle down near the stairs. I joined them in the kitchen, sitting on a bar stool at the counter island.
"Your room is ready for you, Aaron. Have some tea with us."
"Thanks Fred. I hope it's a sleepy-time variety."
"Yes, with a shot."
"How is Skip?"
"His neck is broken. C1 ..." I choked. "C1 thru C5."
I could say no more. I could not say that he had several broken ribs and that his hips were dislocated, along with both shoulders, unlike Billy with just his left shoulder. His left leg was broken in three places. There was potential brain damage, but we would not now until he awoke more completely.
"Trach tube, respirator ..."
Fred stood behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. I lowered my head. He lifted me up and turned me to him, putting both arms around me tightly. I could not cry. It would not be right, but I could still be sad.
"Nobody else knows yet. Billy and I decided to wait for news and then for morning before calling their folks. I need to send out an email in the morning to the boys as well."
"The boys?" asked Fred.
"Billy's dorm mates at Boston College. They are very close to Skip and me. A few other friends in and around Boston as well."
"You can use my PC when you're ready," he said to me.
"In the morning will be fine."
We sat quietly for a bit. Patricia poured me more tea and another couple of drops of brandy.
"The city is going to take care of the brothers financially," Patricia told Fred. "Billy is adamant against a lawsuit, as Skip will be."
"I agree. This country is sue-happy. Money can't fix stuff like this, against innocent people. Skip will walk again, but not because of a lawsuit. It will partially be because of you. You've been there, as Skip had been there with the cancer. He knew he could help you, so you obviously know you can help him."
"At the same time, you know it was hard on you. He's a strong young man, but it won't be a cake walk."
"He's smarter than I am, more confident. Skip gets most anything he wants. A prime job at Harvard, the same type of job at Yale ..."
"You," Patricia said over her teacup, smiling.
I smiled too. "Yeah. He told me he made sure that I would fall in love with him."
"God bless him for trying and for succeeding," said Patricia. Fred agreed.
"I wish everyone was as open to us as you are. Do you think it's because of Pete?"
"Nope, not for me at least," said Fred. "I'm not homophobic. Never have been. You love Skip. Skip loves you. Only the stupid find a problem with that."
"Same for me," said Patricia. "People are not clones of each other. Who and how one loves is not anybody else's business. I think the homophobes are bigots and will get their due."
"I still don't like that term. Phobia is fear of something. They don't fear. They hate. They do it in the name of religion or politics. The God I believe in does not hate me because I love two men."
"Falsely in the name of religion. And arrogantly in the name of politics," said Fred. "Love is not gender."
I smiled. "I've been saying that for a while. I wish it were really true."
"It is," said Patricia. "It has been for a long time and will be even longer. It will take a while, but bigotry will die off in time."
I yawned and looked at the clock. It was after 2:00 a.m.
Fred showed me to my room and pointed out the bathroom within. I took a quick shower, stripped down to boxers, and got into bed. Despite the day's events, I went to sleep very quickly. I woke before dawn, about four hours later. I put on shorts and a polo shirt, and crept downstairs. I went out to the deck. It was chilly, so I went back inside to get a blanket. I wrapped myself up, tucking my bare feet under my butt. I went to the pond.
"Bunny slippers?" I said, giving her a raised eyebrow, stifling a smile. I had finally joined her on the deck.
"Gag gift from Peter and Charlie last year. I like gags. And they are quite warm on these chilly mornings. Coffee will be ready in a bit."
I nodded. I looked out at the fog-shrouded pond again. Ducks swam lazily around the perimeter.
"So you didn't sleep well, even in my charming home," she said, smiling sadly at me.
"Nothing personal," I said. "But two hours is good for me, considering."
"By the way, mothers have very sensitive ears. You came downstairs at 4:30. It's almost 7:00 a.m. now. How are you going to support Skip on only two hours of sleep?"
"Yes. You can call Billy later this morning. I'll drive you to look in on Skip, but you cannot stay."
I said nothing.
"I know better," I said. "I have to call his folks." I stood, putting the blanket in the chair.
"Down the hall to your left. Use the phone in the den. The PC is there as well."
I did not come out of the den for forty-five minutes. Fred and Patricia were on the deck. The makings for breakfast sat on the counter. I took a coffee cup and filled it up, added a teaspoon of sugar and some half-and-half. I went back outside. I sat on one foot and wrapped the blanket around me again. I sipped the hot coffee before I spoke.
"They're pretty pissed off at me," I said.
"I half understand that. But they need to understand that finding out after the fact is better. You had more to tell them than you did yesterday."
"Yeah. It'll take the folks three hours to get here once they hit the road. They're due in around noon. They've never been mad at me before, not even after knowing Skip and Billy and I are three."
"They will cool down. I would be upset too, but I'd work out why you waited," Patricia said.
"Canadian bacon and a couple of fried eggs? English muffin?" asked Fred.
"Yes, thank you."
He went inside.
"Do you want time off next week?"
"No. I can go to the hospital after work. I still have to go to New York on Friday. I called Andrew and Claire in Maryland as well. I'll pay for the phone calls."
"No need. Guests don't worry about such things. Please invite Betsy and JD to come here for dinner."
"I can ask. They might want to stay at the hospital."
"Skip needs to worry about Skip, not you, Billy, or his folks. They need a good meal and a warm bed."
"We've all spent a lot of time in a hospital room, in a chair. The last time I had to call the folks for an emergency was when Billy got brained by a young guy with a lead pipe. They were an hour away vs. three plus, so it was easy to call them."
"Billy was attacked? Under what circumstances?"
"Let's go inside. Fred needs a hand," I said. "I'd like to share this with him, too."
I explained. They asked questions and I answered them.
"No wonder you love so deeply," Fred said. "I feel I don't do it right, not like you do."
"Do you love Fred, Patricia?"
"With all my heart," she said, looking at him and holding his hand.
"You do it right, Fred. I'd like to see us three after 30 years. You can teach us about longevity."
"You'll be together your whole lives, and beyond," said Fred. "Believe that."
"I do, but my best friend and lover is in a coma. He's broken, minimum a paraplegic, and probably a quadriplegic. His life is gonna suck for a long time to come."
"And you'll take care of him," said Patricia, meeting my teary eyes. "You don't know how to do anything but take care of someone you love."
"JD and Betsy ..."
"No. They are parents. You are the heartbeat in Skip's chest. I know that. You remember what I told you when I met you two a few weeks ago."
I nodded. "You said we're beautiful."
"What do you think I meant by that?"
"Aaron, Patricia has no clue how to lie."
"I know. Or be insincere. It's our own mantra."
My cell phone rang.
"Excuse me," I said, going back outside.
"I ... love ... y-you," is all I heard coming through the phone.
Those three words were the most beautiful I could ever hear, especially now. The words were not strong, but they were so awesome.
"I love you too, Skip. So very much."
There was a pause. "Did you hear?" asked Billy.
"Yeah. Oh yeah." My voice broke.
"Come see us later?"
"Yes, but not right away. I called your folks this morning. They'll be at our place around noon."
"Are they upset?"
"No. Very pissed at me."
"We'll talk to them."
"He's okay," Billy said.
"Makes one of us," I said.
If I did not say that, he would know anyway. There is rarely any good time to be afraid of the truth. He loved me because I did not lie. And because I am a pretty awesome guy. More of the former, less of the latter, but, that's life.
"Trust me," he said.
"I do. Remember that I've been where he is, exactly. And remember that I am a paramedic."
"I will think about those," his voice fading on the last two words.
"Rest, love. I do love you both, very much. See you later today."
I knew that he nodded. His voice was gone. Yes, we are linked, by heart and soul, though not quite as strongly as Skip to me. Our relationship is not complicated, even with being three.
"I love you, too."
"How can you?" I asked, as I have in the past. Really, how can they?
"You know that as well as I do. There are infinite things to love about you. Mostly, you make my brother's heart beat. Mine too, but Skip's first and more importantly."
"Yes, necessarily. I'm not insecure in how you love us. Skip is about to become very needful. It's going to take us and more to bring him back to his life."
"You know I love you equal to Skip. Five years and a couple of months, bro. What about your needs?"
"Mine are few."
"Mine too, but they still exist."
I was not talking about sex. He knew that, I think.
"Yes I know it's not about sex. Duh."
"You and your brother really really scare me sometimes."
"Good. Don't take either of us for granted."
"I promise never ever to do that."
"Mom and Dad are on the way?"
"Yeah," I said softly.
"Are you at home?"
"Yes, but not at ours."
"Nice. I'm glad. Patricia is awesome, huh?"
"And a half. Fred, her husband, at least as much."
"No worries. I'm fine. I'm with bro, so I'm just fine. He's ..."
His voice broke. I waited.
"Two or four?" I asked softly. He would know what I meant.
"So were you, but look at you now."
"I didn't get hit by a fucking bus, practically in my face."
"I know, love. Have some faith."
"Tomorrow. Not today."
"Today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, and well beyond."
"Except in the moments I'm in. Those are sad moments."
"Get over `em."
"I heard that," he said, smiling despite my mood.
"It's not fair," I said finally.
"Nope. And he's broken, badly. We'll help fix him. We'll give him what his doc and his therapy can't."
"Are you holding his hand?"
"He can't feel you."
"No, and yes."
Actually, I did not have to think about that. It was exactly the same as me telling Vincent that I could feel him when he was sad, not sure about making love to me.
"We can't hold him," I said.
"So we'll hold each other," he said. "If you fall, I'll catch you."
"I won't fall. You'll have to steady me though."
"And remind me ..."
"Kiss him for me?"
"No. When I kiss him, it's for me. You'll have to make your own whoopee."
I smiled and then I laughed aloud.
"THAT'S why I love you," he said.
"I love you more."
"Probably, but that's my failing. I'll work on it."
"See you, bro. I love you."
I went back inside.
"Sorry," I said. I had held up breakfast.
"How is Skip this morning?"
"Still broken," I said, trying to be light, and brave.
"So you'll help fix him. How badly?"
"Not surprising since he got hit by a fucking bus almost in his face," said Patricia, not missing a beat.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to be so loud."
"Whatever Billy told you, believe every word."
"I do. He held the phone to Skip's mouth. I heard three words that mean the world to me."
"Believe that too."
Fred put four halves of English muffins in the toaster and warmed up the Canadian bacon. He broke two eggs and put them in a very small amount of bacon fat. No, it was not very heart-healthy, but all things in moderation.
We ate. I made plans for the day.
"I'm not sure about overnight."
"You're welcome here if the boy's parents decide to stay near Skip. Please let them know they should come and stay with us."
I helped clean up breakfast dishes and then went to shower. I let the hot water wash over me. I went over Billy's, Patricia's, and Fred's words in my head. It was hard. I had been broken as Skip is. I know, intimately, what every hour is going to be like for him. That is good, but it is also wickedly bad. I am going to have to put on a face so positive that it might become false. He will not stand for that. I also came to the realization that fifteen years of medical advancements might make his healing easier. I wanted to find him the BEST spinal care that existed. I would have to do research. Billy and I would also have to talk to the city, because the best also meant costly. I was not poor, but neither was I without endless resources. My care had topped $1,500,000. Skip's could easily be double or triple that. I doubted that his insurance at Yale was adequate because he was there only three full weeks.
Well, I would not solve the problems by using up all the hot water in the house. I got out of the shower and toweled dry. Showering with Skip had been so sweet. Would it ever be again? I hope so. I stood holding the edge of the counter, looking into the mirror. A bath, though. Now that would be okay. Bubbles and candlelight. Yanni playing for Skip and me--oh so nice. Kissing my love, holding him close, making him know I would not be sad forever. Who can be, and why would one want to be? Nah. I knew what Skip needed and I would help give it to him. Not just me, of course. I could not be so arrogant as to believe that I was his savior. I can be one of them, though, gladly.
I looked at myself in the mirror again. I was smiling. As I dressed, I kept smiling. Mr. Lance Armstrong says that knowledge is power, attitude is everything. I had both, including an insider's view that no other person close to Skip had. Skip had more attitude than I did because he is Skip. Common sense and brilliance. I envied him for both. I had one or the other occasionally. But I used them when I had them, even briefly.
At 11:00, I headed for our place. I was not surprised to find Betsy and JD there already. I got out of my car just dreading going to them. Betsy half ran to me and threw her arms around me tightly.
"Aaron, please dear heart, forgive me. We know exactly why you didn't call us last night. It's not rocket science to figure you boys out. I'm so ashamed at how cold I was to you this morning."
"Sshhhh," I said. "It was just a choice I made. It's hard not to be upset. He's your firstborn, and he might never have been born. There is nothing to forgive. Billy has an idea that you were upset. He said we'd talk about it. You know what that means as well as I do."
"Yeah, like it never happened. There are larger things to think about."
I nodded. JD came to me. He never reached out his hand to me to shake hands. JD is an open arms kind of man. He wrapped me tightly in his arms and I held him at least as tightly. He kissed my forehead.
"We're both thankful that you did wait until this morning. Knowing this last night would have been doubly bad. We know he's alive and that's enough for right now."
"Come on in. I'll give you a tour and we'll have a bite to eat."
Surprisingly, the folks wanted to take their time walking through the condo.
"Really?" I asked, a bit more than surprised.
"A part of you both, and now Billy for the summer, is here. Home is always a good place to know. I want to remember what it looks like, to feel you boys here."
"Skip may not be here again for months, or more."
"Betsy is right. This is where Skip will return to, eventually. It does not matter when, only that he will. I imagine you are now glad that you wanted a first floor master."
"Yeah, and a reasonable square footage. I don't think Skip will be in a standard wheelchair for months to come. I imagine it'll be more high tech than even I had after my accident."
JD smiled. "I forgot. It makes me even more ashamed that we were harsh on you this morning. You've been where Skip is now, 100%."
"Yeah. I want him to have an easier time than I did."
"What do you mean?" asked Betsy.
"I was too far from home and was more of a stranger in a strange land. No one knew how to treat me, so everyone stayed away. Everyone. It was an extremely lonely time of my life. It wasn't my family's fault because they were working class and every penny counted. Friends did not want to ..."
I stopped. It sounded cruel, even to me.
"It was a struggle that Skip will never know," I said.
After over a half hour of walking through the condo, we went out to the deck where we had iced tea and salads. JD grilled up chicken while I cut up strawberries. I put romaine lettuce on plates, added the chicken, strawberries, and slivered almonds, plus vinaigrette.
"How much did you sleep last night, and where did you go."
"My manager from work and her husband's house, not far from here. I dunno, about two hours I guess."
"We would like to stay here tonight, and have you sleep in your own bed," JD said.
"No, you can have our room. I'll sleep upstairs. I will call Patricia. She offered her home to us."
"Unlike illness, the hospital is a lot more strict about spinal injuries and such. Skip needs every bit of rest he can get. We are going to stay ..."
Betsy stopped, looking over at JD.
"We can stay the week, if you ..."
"I do. By the way, Billy can come home tomorrow. I want to sleep with him. We can't make love because of his injuries, but I can hold him."
"You should," said JD.
"You deserve a good night's rest too. It's not going to be easy seeing Skip. It's not like before."
Not even close, I thought, lowering my head. Indeed, they will be quite shocked.
"Don't worry about us, Aaron. You are as much our son as Skip and Billy are. We both, and I know I can speak for Betsy, love you very much. Knowing that you are healed now gives us hope for Skip. You're as much a role model to us as you are to the boys, all of them. We parents have talked a lot lately about adversity. Sam and David, and what you did ..."
"It wasn't just me. I had little to do with Sam. Billy found him and saved him."
"Okay, but not without prodding from you. You knew what Sam needed. Your instincts are so strong."
"Then trust that when you see Skip, you will be taken aback. Honest."
They looked at me. "It's probably not worse than I can picture, or have seen on TV," said Betsy.
"A thousand fold."
"Then let's go and see. He knows we're here by now."
I played co-pilot while JD drove. Betsy sat in back. I reached back and held her hand. Thirty-five minutes later, we were pulling into the garage a block from ER. Billy would still be in a room close by ER. He was sitting near the entrance to ER when we arrived. Betsy went to him, knelt down, hugged him carefully, and kissed his cheek. JD did the same. He gave Billy another kiss, this time on his forehead.
"If I be good, I can come home tomorrow," he said. "I tried to be extra good so I could come home today, but my doc said no. I guess he knows best."
"We're here for the week, my boy," said JD. "No worries. We would like to come once a month, for a week, through summer. What do you boys think?"
"Rah!" said Billy, in his typical `feel-good' phrase.
"What he said," I said, pleased.
"Beyond that, we'll see. We're not the only ones to help Skip get better. I feel better about Aaron doing that."
"It won't be me in the beginning. I'd be on the backup team. He needs to be taught, as will I."
"Ready Mom and Dad?" asked Billy.
"No, but let's go."
"It won't be easy to see him. I'm barely used to it. He's still your boy."
"One of three," JD said, holding me around the waist. "Don't ever doubt it, Aaron."
"Not after five years," I said.
It took about seven minutes to get to ICU Long-Term. Billy held Betsy's hand as he led her into Skip's room, seemingly a mile from Billy's room near ER. Skip was sleeping. Betsy walked over to him, as confidently as she could. She put her hand on his, but did not pick his up. That was wise because we did not understand the full extent of his injuries. She leaned down and kissed his cheek. He opened his eyes, taking a moment to focus. JD walked up beside Betsy. He had given my hand a squeeze before he did so. It was a lot to take in. But he did okay. He touched Skip lightly on his cheek then he kissed it. He looked at me, tears in his eyes, beckoning me. I stood beside him and put my arm across his shoulder.
"I have to confess that we gave Aaron a hard time this morning," said JD.
"Did you him--hug? Told him--stupid?"
"Yes. I apologize to you, too. It was indeed stupid to be so rude."
Skip's speech was raspy. That first question took Skip about fifteen seconds to get all the way out. His throat would be sore from the trach tube and respirator. His chest would hurt because he did not breathe when he wanted to. He would learn about rhythm soon enough.
"What do you feel?"
"Glad you ar--are--here."
It is not what JD meant, but they both knew that.
"Me too, son, me too."
Tears ran down Skip's cheeks.
"Are you in pain?" JD asked.
"No. Can't--feel any--anything."
"I'm sor..." started Betsy.
"Don't," Skip said firmly. "No pity."
He had more to say, so we waited.
"Hold me--in your he--heart."
He paused to breathe.
"Be strong. Me too."
"If you can be strong, we can. Aaron?" said Billy.
I looked at him. He took my hand. He hugged me and rubbed my back.
"You know all about this, right?"
"Only from my perspective. I can't ..."
"You can," said Skip. "I--need you."
"You had surgery?" asked JD.
"Yes. Don't kn--ow how long."
"Over eight hours," I said quietly.
He asked me the next question with his eyes. He could not talk much longer.
"Immobilized your spinal column from any movement. I would guess that you have a rod of some type to align your spine. He might have fused the bones or removed some bone to take pressure off your spinal cord. No doubt your spinal cord is swollen. One of your IV meds is a steroid," I said, pointing to one of the meds. "It'll help relieve the swelling."
"Spinal cord," he said.
"It's why you can't feel anything. It may be cut somewhere in addition to being swollen."
He acknowledged his understanding with his eyes. He could not nod. He looked at each of us.
"It's hard, love."
"I know." He blinked again. He blinked when he had more to say.
"Like I used to, when you were sick as a little boy."
Betsy reached down and lightly stroked Skip's cheek. An automatic reflex to smile happened, as he knew it would. His mom always smiled when she was being tender with her sons. Any mother does that. I had seen that look directed at me many times. Skip would feel great warmth in his heart, and his mom would feel it in turn. JD put his arm across her shoulder. He kissed her.
"We have a lot to learn," he said.
"I need sl--sleep. Tired."
His folks kissed him gently. Billy leaned over to touch Skip's chest. He put his cheek against Skip's for a moment. He kissed his brother on his lips. He looked into Skip's eyes and then kissed him again. I too kissed him, very tenderly, and meaning it. I brushed my tongue against his lips. His eyes smiled at me even when his lips could not.
I turned to Billy. He nodded that he understood Skip's request. His folks did the same. JD wheeled Billy out while Billy held his mom's hand. He had barely released her hand the whole time we were with Skip. He was a little boy, needing his mom to make it better. Skip was a man, also needing to make it better. I knew how.
There was no chair. I went to the ICU desk to ask for one. The nurse was about to argue with me.
She relented. I took the chair and returned to Skip's room.
"It's a sunny day outside, bro."
I decided to walk Skip around, outside, in his mind. It was similar to my need to walk in the world for Vincent.
"I spent the night at Patricia and Fred's so I did not have to be home alone. They have a pond near their back yard. It was foggy this morning. I could see the mists covering the grounds even before the sun came up."
I touched Skip's arm, as I became his window. He could not feel me, but he knew I was there. His eyes were closed but he was not asleep.
"There was no breeze, so the fog danced freely in place, swirling like a fine ballet. A family of mallards swam around the edge of the pond. I sat on my heels at the edge of the pond for a long while, wrapped up in a blanket. The momma duck did not object to me being there. I made no movement once I settled down, letting the fog cover me in a damp chill. The sun poked up tentatively at the tree line. Only thin clouds were hanging about, so it decided to rise. It would mean the demise of the fog, but the fog did not care. I closed my eyes and let the light and the glowing warmth shine on my face."
I stopped, looking at his face.
"More," he said.
"I looked back at the house. Patricia was sitting on the deck, watching me. I told momma duck to take care of her young. I would see them again another time. I gave a couple of robins as wide berth when I walked back to the deck. They were listening intently for their morning meal beneath the freshly cut grass. Even though the grass had been trimmed up to 48 hours earlier, the scent was wonderful, filling my nose and reminding me of when I was a kid. I mowed our front yard and then my brother and I took the lawn mower to homes of a couple of the elderly in town. We mowed their lawns for the fresh smell more than for the money. Most of the time we would not take money unless we needed to it to buy gas before mowing another lawn.
"I looked up at the sky as I walked back. A blue jay flew across the sky on the way to a neighboring tree. He squawked to his mate, showing off for her by flying in sweeping circles. Other birds chirped in the early morning, far above me. The sky was becoming bluer as the mist began to give in to the warmth of the sun."
"Nice." he said. "I--love you, A."
"I love you too, Skip. I wish ..."
"No. Don't wish." He paused. "Hope."
I already was touching him, but I touched his cheek with the back of my hand. His eyes looked sideways at me. I stood over him.
"Can I kiss you?"
"Fear? Or l--love."
"Love. I'm not afraid."
"Liar. Kiss me."
I did, warmly and tenderly, pulling back to look into his eyes.
"Go home. Take ..." He blinked
"Care of Mom. Dad."
"Dislocated shoulder, cracked rib, left ankle broken."
"No worries. You know Billy."
"Worry? Or know Billy."
"Do you love me?"
"Do I love you?"
"Head over he--heels."
"There's my lover. Can I come back tonight?"
"Kiss me more."
I did, lovingly, enough to hold him until I came back tomorrow. I did not want to stop.
"I love--you lots. My--heart."
"I love you with all of my heart, forever."
"Nice. Need Mom--and Dad."
I left to get his folks. I stayed with Billy while they went back to their son. They returned in about twenty minutes.
"He says we are to go home and make a good dinner for each other. He wants us to walk around the neighborhood, for him."
I wanted Skip to know what was going on every day. I would somehow find someone to talk to him daily, letting him picture the world outside until he was moved to a room with a window. Patricia, Fred, Pete and Charlie, JD and Betsy, and Billy would be the window for Skip. Me too, of course.
I explained to the nurses at the ICU station, on the way out, about what I was doing and why.
"I know Skip needs to rest. I trust that he will tell any of us when he needs sleep. I have intimate knowledge of his injury and if he wants me here, I will be here."
The nursing supervisor spoke up.
"We will rely heavily on you then, Aaron. I will let all of the staff know."
"Skip's folks are here for the week, and then again once a month for a week. Please don't deny them. Let Skip decide."
"As it should be. We do care, a lot. I've been doing this job for 28 years. No staff person has less than 15 years. Your friend ...?"
"Not exactly." I said no more.
"Understood. You two together are ..."
"Meant to be."
"Yes." Again, I said no more.
"Family is family, Aaron. You're more important than we are, though we do care very much."
"Nice. Thank you all for that." I looked at each person in turn. "See you tomorrow then. Skip doesn't want us to come back tonight, but he does want Billy."
"Then he shall have Billy. See you tomorrow Aaron."
"Good night Aaron," said the staff. "God bless."
I shook their hands and told them that He does.
I played co-pilot again to get us back to Fairfield and to the grocery store. The folks would follow Skip's wishes that we spend the evening together and leave Billy and him to be alone. We bought fresh haddock and crabmeat, lemons, salad fixings, russet potatoes, and fresh green beans. I already had breakfast items for tomorrow. JD bought a bottle of wine next door. I paid for the groceries. Betsy was about to protest.
"To quote a friend, guests don't worry about such things."
"I can make the salad and dessert," Betsy said, once we got home.
"I'm feeling selfish," I said.
Betsy gave me a nice hug and a kiss on my forehead.
"I love you a lot," I said.
"I love you too, Aaron. I'm sorry ..."
"Nuh uh. Put it in the past where it belongs."
"How can you forgive me so easily?"
"Because you know why I didn't call sooner. You need to forgive yourself more than I need to forgive you."
"It's hard to."
"Yeah. Do it anyway."
"Even harder is not going back today," JD said.
"We'll have plenty to do. Following Skip's wishes is more important than our own."
"Hug me and give me some of your smartness," JD said.
I hugged him, but I kept my smartness for myself. He did not need mine. He needed to trust himself. Caring for a son with a spinal injury did not take smarts. It took heart. He and Betsy would plumb the depths to find that heart--something that the average person does not have until it is needed.
"How hard is this going to be for Skip?"
"Beyond words," I said.
"Was it that way for you?"
"Yeah. Every day was different. Some days I wanted to stay in bed and tell the world to fuck off. We were working on muscles that were torn, and bones that had not healed. I cried an ocean in frustration and, eventually, an ocean in hope. The old saying of `the only way out is through' rings true. The one thing you absolutely cannot give him is ...?
"Pity," said Betsy. "I think I would hate that, too, but, I do pity him."
"It will take time," she said.
"You have until tomorrow morning," I said, patiently but firmly.
Of course I understood. How can Skip not be pitied? He is in ICU, no feeling anywhere in his body except his sweet lips (which I would take advantage of at every turn), and as broken as someone still alive can be. I did not feel pity. Occasionally it was abject terror, but mostly it was understanding. I, or more appropriately we, would not lose Skip. If Skip were going to die, he would have done so before now. Mortality after one year of injury was 5-7%, though not because of the injury to the spine. Skip had taken a major blow to his chest and stomach, so internal damage was significant. We did not yet know how significant. Since he had survived the first 24 hours, his odds of 10-year survival were about 87%. The numbers were less than meaningless for Skip. He had no faith in statistics of any kind. I had lived and that was all that he needed to know.
"Fear or pity needs to be a private emotion. Tears are not to be shown to him, and barely to each other."
"Okay. I understand," said Betsy.
"As do I," said JD.
"I still have to go to New York for chemo each week. I'll go to work as usual, too. I'll stay overnight if he ever asks, but I don't think he will. He's going to sleep 10 or more hours each night. He'll sleep longer when he doesn't have PT. There will be at least one more surgery, maybe half as long as the first."
"How many did you have?"
"Four in all, over a year and a half. I was in the hospital just short of three years."
"And the cost?"
"A couple million almost. Skip's could be double or more. The city is going to cover him and Billy, hospital plus rehab. I was there yesterday when two bus company reps came to see Billy."
"I assume they have concerns about a lawsuit?"
"Good. That's stupid."
"Billy spoke up and said Skip would not sue over an accident. It was nobody's fault."
"Our boys," JD said proudly, and rightfully so.
"The city has pulled all buses off the street until they're all inspected and the fault is found."
"Do you think Yale can handle other than Skip's immediate care?"
"Doubtful, so I did some research this morning. There is a spinal injury rehab hospital in Denver and another in Atlanta. I suspect Skip's surgeon knows about them. I really think Skip should have the best."
"I agree, of course," said JD. "We should talk to the city about it, if they're footing the tab."
"I also agree. Quality care means better care means shorter duration of care, but I dunno. I guess it would come down to the city. I'll call on Monday."
The phone rang during dinner. I answered it, giving the folks a wide smile. It was a rep from the mayor's office. I made notes as I talked to her. I know she could tell we would be very happy. I had informed her that Skip's folks were here with me. She wanted to meet with us on Monday, but put a name into our ears--The Shepherd Center in Atlanta. I told her that I had found that name this morning. I was concerned, as Skip's folks were, about expense. Renowned also meant top-shelf. She said it was not our worry. I also said that we should talk to Skip about him being away for a few months. She understood. We agreed to meet on Monday.
"I want to ask Patricia if I can take a month off. I want to be with Skip, if he's going to be away from home, at least in the beginning. I'm torn though, since I just came back to GE."
"Call now. You were going to call anyway."
Betsy was right. I had almost forgotten.
"If she says okay, would you meet her and Fred?"
"Yes, of course."
I called Patricia. I told her that we were not going back to the hospital, due to Skip's wishes. I asked if we three could join them after dinner. Affirmative. I said we would bring dessert. Betsy and I made my signature raspberry almond torte.
Over coffee and dessert, I asked about time off.
"I don't have a time table yet, but I'd like to have a month when Skip is moved. Most likely it will be to Atlanta. I'm guessing Skip has to be stable for one to two weeks before he can be moved."
"I was ready for your request. It's been approved. I'll fill in the dates with Human Resources. However, instead of a leave, how would you like to do a project for the Atlanta office?"
"Yeah, I would. How much work and how much time with Skip?"
"You're an adult, it's your choice. I've made contact and the regional manager knows why you'll be there. The project can be started here and finished there, or vice versa. It's an important project but doesn't have a strict time line. The Atlanta office will find you an apartment. I know you're not a big fan of long-term hotel stays."
That much was true. A hotel for a week or three was okay. After that, I didn't feel settled. Most apartment complexes had short-term furnished apartments. Atlanta office would know what to do.
"Okay. Once I know when, where, and all that stuff, I'll work it out with you. Thanks so much for your help."
"I understand Billy came for the summer. Will that change now? Also, what about your chemo?"
"Aw crap. Chemo. Another call to Andrew. I don't know if Billy will stay now, but he's not the type to walk away from a good summer job."
"If he wants to be with people, he's welcome to stay with us," said Fred.
"I'll make the offer to him. Thanks for that."
I brought Billy home on Sunday afternoon. The folks stayed with Skip all afternoon and came home in time for dinner. I served up lasagna and salad. At the end of the evening, I got Billy settled into bed and lay beside him.
"Nice to be home," he said.
"So you're okay with staying with Patricia and Fred?"
"Yeah. It's nice to them to offer. You're right that I don't want to walk away from Yale"
"How do you feel about Skip and me being away from you for several months?"
"I'll miss you both. I'll come back for Christmas break."
"That's it?" I asked.
"Yeah. I don't want to make a big deal of it. No need to. But ... will he be like he was?"
"We dunno. Right now I'm happy enough that he's alive."
"Me too, naturally. He cried out pretty badly when he got hit. His hips and his spine. Shit, I can still hear him sometimes. I never knew he could make that kind of sound. It was brutal for him."
"And for you."
"Not so much."
"How can I hold you? Without hurting you I mean."
"Pillow behind my back."
I took a plump pillow and put it behind him, carefully laying him against it.
"Hold me like you always do."
I put both arms around him, carefully. I kissed him lightly. He kissed me not so lightly. I put my hand behind his head and looked into his eyes.
"I love you, bro," he said.
"I love you too. Sleep, okay?"
He tucked into my neck. I loved that so much. I went to sleep easily.
"You haven't asked a certain question," I said to Skip, rubbing my thumb across his knuckles. It was Tuesday, after work.
"I won't ask th--at question."
"You lost more--than me." He blinked. I waited.
"I have news to share. Your folks and I met with the mayor's right-hand-gal yesterday. First off, the city is paying for your hospital bill and all rehab."
"That's--a lot of m--oney."
"A lawsuit would be more," I said.
"I know. So do they. You also know that this place can't take care of your spinal injury, other than what they're doing now."
"How do you feel about going to Atlanta?"
"A highly rated rehab center."
"Will you go--with me?"
"Yes. I don't have to take a leave of absence. Patricia has a project for me in the Atlanta office, whenever to whenever."
"He'll stay through the summer. Patricia and Fred offered to have him. He accepted."
"So how about you?"
"No. Nothing--at all." He blinked.
"I would--rather feel--pain."
"Sadly, you will. It just takes a while."
"Will it be--bad?"
I nodded. "Yes. Maybe worse."
"Forget wh--at I said." Again the blink.
"Truly. But you can do anything you put your mind to. Don't be afraid."
"You got--better. I can too." Blink
"But I need--you. I always--will." Blink
"What ab--out your ch--emo?"
"Andrew can help me in Atlanta too. The NIH has an affiliated cancer center there."
He knew I was holding his hand, but he could feel nothing. I did more than just touch him. I gave him a loving kiss.
"You know--me well. I love y--ou." Blink.
"Aaron--my lover. ... My friend."
"Is it enough?"
I stayed with him until he fell asleep a short while later. I kissed his forehead once more.
"I will love you no matter what."
Those would be words I would need to hold dear for a long while.
Skip's life was about to become truly awful.
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