Skip - Part 58
"Thank you, Claire. Maybe I can come home soon."
"You can. We're waiting for you. Andy wants to visit."
She was so sweet. Andy Jr., they knew, held a special place for me. Claire was jealous of me for only one reason; that I met Andrew before she did. I tell her that she was worth the difference in time. They had two very beautiful children together, Louisa and Andy Jr.
We've known each other from the first few months of me being diagnosed with cancer. I went on a search for someone who would give me more than frickin' "6 to 8 months" to live. How I resented doctors who played God because they had NO damn clue of what I was made of. Maybe I've survived just to thumb my nose at them. But then again, that's taking credit away from a man so loving and so caring and so hard working as Andrew. He had found me.
So anyway, I lay in the hospital, not feeling my legs, but happy. My Jake loved me. All would be right with the world soon enough.
Watching Jake day to day brings me joy. This includes way before, during, and after becoming Jake's Dad. I use the capital D on purpose because Jake does. Dad is a title that I wear very proudly. A few friends have said they like that I'm his father. "Father" is a cool word except to Jake. Father, to him, means cruel punishment. It's known that anyone can be a father ... but not everyone can be a Dad. So, I'm Jakes' Dad-not his father.
He told me he is going to save these journals. He's shared each one with Daniel so far. The journals have been around the world. Lots of people say 'keep writing!'. They want to know Jake. By the way, that includes Jake. He likes my perspective on him.
Who is the young man that I loved enough to bring into my home? He rolls his eyes and tells me I'm full of surprises. When I'm just watching him, he'll say 'good thing I wasn't picking my nose', or something equally silly. Gotta love this boy. His sense of humor is perfect. He loves to be a troublemaker, in the way I like it, not be a real troublemaker.
"Hey Jake, come outside. Let's make a snowman or two."
As usual, I loved a giant sized snowman. Jake didn't appear to be into it but I didn't say anything. I made a huge base and then a slightly smaller middle.
"Can you help me lift this beast?" I asked him. He looked over at me, coming out of his own little world. "I guess I went overboard again."
"You always do Dad. Not that that's a bad thing."
Matt came home in time to see us working in the backyard. He helped Jake and me lift the head of the snowman on top. Jake then went back to his snowman. It was in three pieces, proportionate to mine, but smaller.
"You have to go inside for a few minutes. I want this to be a surprise."
"Do you want a hand?" asked Matt.
"Nope. Keep Dad from spying on me."
Well that wasn't gonna happen. Matt and I watched from the window in my bedroom. Jake looked up and flipped us the bird. We waved at him too, but not in kind. He stood with this arms folded across his chest, tapping his boot on the snow. We waved again and then backed away from the window. We went downstairs and sat in the living room until Jake came in to get us.
"Ready. Come look."
We got dressed again and went out back. Snoopy sat beside Jake's snowman, which sat beside mine. He had branches arranged just right so it looked like we were holding hands.
"Sweet, Jake. Nice," I said.
"Kind of a dream to me," he said, sad-eyed. "But you already know that."
"Nice to dream, love. Don't ever stop."
I stood beside him, imitating our images in snow. Matt fetched his camera and took a pic of the four of us. We laughed. Jake wondered which was real and which was Memorex. This made us laugh harder.
Jake at his best is the real deal. He's a deep thinker. He likes his quiet time. Even with a crowd of friends around, he can take himself away. I know I teach him a lot, but that's one thing I would love for him to teach me.
I have a picture of Andrew, in black and white. I had shown it to Pop and Mom Christian a while ago. Pop watched and waited until he saw Jake alone and then snapped a couple of pictures. I wish I had a date. It's taken on one of Jake's off-chemo cycles, so he looks okay. I look at him and I have to ask myself constantly how someone could beat him. I look at him and want to hold him in my arms so bad. I don't understand how he could be abused repeatedly. To have this boy as my son is the crowning achievement of my life, yet he came to me one night in November with a bruised face, a black eye, and a broken arm. I could scream at the insanity of that.
There is nothing in my life that would let me beat a boy like this. My most basic instinct would be to protect him from anything bad, to talk to him, to listen to him, and to love him dearly. I would have to be a psychopath to walk into his bedroom one or two nights a week, for weeks on end, wake him out of a sound sleep, beat the living shit out of him, degrade him with name-calling, and then walk away, leaving him bloody, or swollen and broken. I would have to be the most sadistic person on the face of the Earth to ambush him in the upstairs hallway and to push him down the stairs. Yet that's what happened when he was living in his parent's house. If he didn't go home, it would be twice as bad. He spent one night sleeping in the garage, hiding. His father wailed on him like he'd been missing for a week.
To make Jake dread every moment of his life is cruel. It was enough he had to find out he had leukemia.
"How did you find out, love? What made you go to the doctor?"
"My mom told me I was pale all the time. She wondered if I was anemic. I wouldn't eat when my father was home. I was nauseous, but I wrote that off to my nerves. I was on edge so much. I had to keep my guard up all the time. I had headaches every day, even after I took something for them. Again I thought that was my father because he slammed my head into the walls. He'd strike out of nowhere, when I thought he wasn't even home. Aches in my bones were the worst of it. I wondered if he had broken anything, so I went to my doctor for a physical."
"I'd hate to think what would have happened if you wrote it all off as your father. Your type of leukemia progresses very fast. So the doc did blood work?"
"Bone marrow?" I said, knowing, pulling my arms up, and wrapping them around me. Please say 'no' I thought to myself. I could feel my face and my eyes becoming sad in a heartbeat.
"Four in all over 10 days."
I shivered uncontrollably. I knelt and puked violently. He didn't know that I dreaded a bone marrow worse than the end of the world. He knelt beside me, looked at me, and then touched my face.
"You know what that's like. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean ... "
"No love, I'm just appalled at all the cruelty you've seen in a year's time. How awful. It's not right."
"And what happens to you is?"
I didn't say anything. I knew how to handle my 'stuff'. He didn't. He was too young. I remember what it's like to be younger and fighting something that wanted my life.
He loves me as much as I love him. That's saying a lot, because he looks at me like no one else exists. He can't love me more, and I can't love him more. The level we're at is not typical of father/son. But I'm not his father. I'm more.
We talk to each other almost every night. His last words, always, are "I love you Daddy." He doesn't say them out of habit. He waits until we've said everything we want to say to each other. There will be a long moment where neither of us says anything. Then, plain as day, "I love you Daddy." Sometimes his voice cracks. I've had a lump the size of Texas in my throat.
I could never not want to hear that. And it makes me understand what happened to him less and less. There is no reason to throw away a young man like this, like he was last night's garbage.
I promise you, James Langille, you will never EVER be hurt again, and I will love you until time swallows itself whole.
He's the first person I think about each morning. He's practically the only person I think about all day. He's the last person I think about at night. I know when he's getting up (Mom Christian says he's very disciplined, sick from chemo or not), when he's in classes, when he's working, and when he's home studying. I know when he goes for a walk by himself. I know when he's thinking about me because I can feel him. If you don't believe I can, you don't understand love between Jake and me.
"How do you do that!?" he asked one night when I called, surprised at my timing.
"I was thinking about you not two minutes ago!"
"You touched my heart."
"You're a dreamer."
"No, I love my son very much."
End of discussion. Jake is speechless. Dad wins again.
It's not the point to leave him speechless, or me 'winning'. Well, maybe sometimes. He is to know, daily, and with no doubt, that he is on my mind, in my heart, and loved absolutely.
He's thinking again that I paid his tuition without even talking to him about it.
"Why did you do that?"
"So you won't have to worry about anything."
"What better way to spend it?"
"I know, but that's a lot of money. You already paid legal fees to adopt me, and you bought me things for Christmas. You feed me, and buy me clothes. You pay half of my car payment. You paid for my car registration and my state inspection. And you keep putting money in my checking account. I'm not giving you a whole lot back in return."
I bought him his first car, a Saturn 4-door sedan, silver-blue in color, slightly used. Daniel and I did it behind Jake's back. Daniel paid for the sales tax and tags. I wanted to argue about that but he wouldn't argue. Daniel also put money in Jake's checking account. Like me, it was $50 here and there. Nothing substantial, but enough so he wouldn't get caught short. If he did, he was to call me.
"Yes you are."
"Not financially. It's not fair."
"Stop a moment. Look at me, love. It's very fair. You don't have to struggle to work two jobs and burn the midnight oil and still end up taking summer classes. Been there/done that. It was okay for me because I learned a lot. My pop couldn't afford to put me through college. I'll never be rich, but you'll know I came by the money honestly. I've got a good job. I want you to have a life that your father denied you."
"You are my boy. I love you with all my heart. There are things I will do for you, without question."
He didn't say anything. He just looked at me with sad eyes.
"I love you, Jake. Money won't prove it. I have to let who I am speak for me."
"You do. I know who you are. I learn something new about you every day. Someday I will pay you back."
"If you bring home good grades, you will have done enough."
"I'm not an A student."
Three A's and two B's said he was bright enough.
"Neither was I."
"What's 'good grades'? What did your parents make you do?"
"C or better, in every class, is my idea of good grades. My parents didn't make me do anything. They asked, nicely, for C or better because they figured I was at least paying attention. Neither one graduated from high school, so their expectations were that I would, and that I'd show some sense of understanding."
"I will bring home no worse than five B's then."
"Don't make a promise you can't keep."
"I can keep a promise. You've kept a lot of 'em."
"If you get into trouble, you can call me."
"Not if I want five B's."
He smiled at me. And then he grinned like a smartass kid.
He loved the bantering and my honesty. He knew my expectations were not like those imposed on him in the past. All I expected was that he put effort into what he did, a little heart. He's not at Harvard or MIT studying nuclear physics with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He's carrying a dual major in computer science and finance. He wants to be like Bill Gates (or better) when he grows up, minus the wealthy part. He says he's going to be a world leader. Or a biologist, whichever comes first. Both.
Do I believe him? Yes. He's not joking. Jake is serious about his life and his future. Like mine, the future is not always within reach, except in the moments we're in. He doesn't tell me what he wants just because he'll never reach it. He believes he will. I believe with him. He's learning to pull back and live in the moment.
"That's the greatest phrase I've ever heard."
"Which one?" I asked
"The moments I'm in."
"Hardest thing in the world to do. Harder than saying 'I love you'."
"No, saying 'I love you', the way you do, and meaning it, is the hardest thing in the world. No one ever has, except you."
"Close. But not like you."
"I just happened to say it first."
"No. Daniel told me he loves me before I even met you. Without words. By bringing me to you."
"My loss then."
"Nope. You rule when it comes to love. And you rock! From day 1 when I met you."
"What was that first day like, meeting me I mean."
"I was totally overwhelmed. Dr. Toddman's wife had been counseling me. She said my attitude sucked, plainly speaking. I told her I didn't know any other attitude. She told me about you, that you knew how to help out people like me, because you felt things just like me."
"Yeah, I know. You feel for me. I know that when I tell you I hurt, it means something besides a word. You feel the fire like me. You hate the cancer, yours and mine both. I know you would like to take it away from me. I'm glad you can't."
"If only ... "
"You would. I know it. So I fight it like you do. I'm not as good at it, but I'm learning. I don't want you to lose me because of this. And I want you with me for all our lives."
I looked at him and smiled. He knew how to tug at my heartstrings.
"Can I adopt you?"
"Thankfully you already had enough sense to." Funny, but he was serious.
"It's late. The sun will set soon. What do you want to do?"
"Can we watch the sunset?"
"Yeah. We need a good place to see it though."
"I know where there is a good overlook. It'll take a while but it's worth it."
We were about an hour from sunset at most. The air was cold and we had a great hike.
The sun sat low on the horizon, clouds around it so it had some character and color. I liked that better than clear-day sunsets. It went from yellow to golden, to a pink/orange glow.
He sat behind me, head on my shoulder, face touching my face, arms around my chest, watching the sky intently. I reached up and he held my hands. The sun dropped until it was half gone. The clouds turned a little fiery. The sun disappeared but the afterglow lit up the bottoms of the clouds.
"You used to sit like this with Andrew. You do this with Skip. Billy too?"
"No wonder Andrew loved you. It's a no-brainer why Skip and Billy love you. To let them be part of your feeling for your life, the simple things you enjoy like sunrises and sunsets, and full moons. I feel very special. You saved my life, and don't fight with me about that."
"Seems like we talked about that before."
He turned me around to face him. This was an 'eye-conversation'.
"YOU saved my life. To have missed that sky, those colors, that smell in the air, your own scent in my arms, how you feel to me, and how much I love you for being here-I can not EVER imagine my life without you."
Okay, so he left me speechless. Tears ran down my eyes and I tried to clear my throat. I had nothing to say that was more beautiful than what I just heard. He put his arms around me tighter. He touched my cheek. We sat for a long while, holding on.
"We should get home, so Mom & Pop don't worry about us."
"A little while longer? The stars are coming out. Which planet is the bright one out there?" he said pointing to the northwest.
"Don't know, love. I'm not good with morning stars vs. evening stars anymore. I think it varies depending on season, too. You know a lot about me. Do you know what my favorite constellation is?"
"It's a winter constellation, number one. Number two, you can see it plain as day."
"You're beginning to sound like me."
"No way! What did I say?"
"Plain as day."
"Hmmmm, is that the New England in you?"
"Yeah, I think so. I don't hear Pennsylvania people saying 'plain as day'. I'm still learning the dialect," I said.
"Will you take me home some day, to your home I mean, where you grew up?"
"Yeah. Long trip though."
"You haven't been home in a long while."
"Do you miss it?"
"Yeah. Nice place to grow up, and raise a family."
"Why did you come here?"
"So I'd meet you."
"You're dreaming again. Get serious."
"I am serious."
"You had no clue I even existed until four or five months ago."
"Everything happens for a reason. You were meant to be my boy."
"I don't agree with the first part. I have no problem with the second."
"You don't believe everything happens for a reason?"
"About as much as you do."
"Lots of people do believe that."
"Minus two; you and me," he said.
"I'd like to believe. But you're right. I can't justify that I lost Kate and my child. Or that I lost my Andrew. There is no valid reason that I'd accept that I have lost three of the best people in my life. Or you in your own personal Hell. It hurts too much to believe in 'everything happens for a reason'. If so, the reason sucks."
"I know, Dad. I hear you. I have no answer either."
He paused for a minute, thinking.
"I can see why, mostly, I got cancer-so I'd lived fiercely, like Jeff says. Too bad it took cancer to make me live to that level. From what I hear of your teen years, you lived that way anyway, maybe not 'fiercely', but you had no boredom in your life. Somebody like me could envy somebody like you."
"The best part is that I had Katie. And then I became a basketball junkie. Drama club was cool. College was the best; that's four years I'd do over again in a heartbeat."
"I'm liking college so far. Seems like I'll never graduate though. It's a hundred light-years away."
"Maybe, but don't blink. You'll wonder what happened."
"Funny, but at my age things look like they've gone on forever. But you got only about 20 years on me and I'm sure you feel like you're only a little older. Of course, you do anything but act your age."
"Blech. I hope I never do that," I said, meaning it.
"Nope. Me neither. I probably wouldn't love you anymore."
"You love me? Cool!"
"No. I love you with all my heart. From here ... " he said putting his hand on his heart, " ... to here. My heart to your heart, your heart to mine."
He moved his hand to my heart, held it, and then back to his. He spoke it slowly and with feeling.
"They aren't just words, Dad. You bring total joy to my life."
"And you to mine, when I thought no one could, when I didn't want anyone to anymore."
"You didn't give up on it, or Skip made you feel again. He took a chance. I don't know if I'd be as brave as that."
"Skip does a lot of good things for me, and Billy adds his own. You'll meet the BC boys soon enough. We're family like there never was."
"I know what love is. But you make me feel it deeper than I would have. I mean, I love Daniel, but I am more in love with him every day because you teach me to take nothing for granted. I don't want to be his boyfriend or his lover. I want to be 'his Jake', like you have 'my Skip' and 'my Billy', you know? Even young Andrew is still with you. Kate is too, even stronger. You talk in your sleep."
"I didn't know I still did. Skip or Billy holds me tighter when I'm dreaming about her."
I did know what Jake meant. "My Andrew ... My Kate". Not mine like I owned them-more like I held them dearly in my heart.
"Daniel's friends know that he is gay and in love with me, but they say us being separated by two hours won't work."
"Do you believe them?"
"You and Katie-1500 miles."
"How in the world do you know that?"
"God bless Matty and Jeff-boy. I'm glad you talk to them. But we weren't just any couple."
"Neither are Daniel and me. I put up with beatings to be with him. I would have put up with more, if you hadn't been there to take me away from it. I would have had another broken arm or legs the way my father was going. But it wasn't enough to make me stop. I do love Daniel. And he knows."
"You always ask why. 'Why not' then."
"'Why not'? I got a hundred answers for why not. He's a guy. You're a guy. People would say it's unnatural to love another boy. Or they would say that I'm a bad influence on you, that you would not be gay if I stopped encouraging you. Or ... "
"Okay, I give! I love Daniel because he gave me what I needed the most; to be with you. He could have told me that he was taking me to the hospital instead. But he didn't. Well, he argued a lot but he brought me to you. He knew you were the only one I trusted. He listens, that's why I love him. I'm important to him. That's why I love him more."
"Will you love him forever?"
"I don't know. I'm living in the moment-my moments. I love him today and into my near future, as long as I don't die."
I heard night sounds. I heard the sound of my son's beating heart. I felt the love he gave to me, deeply and sincerely. I felt all the things that he was afraid of and I made a silent promise that I would take it all away when I could. Not if. When.
I had things to teach my boy. And I had things to learn. All I wanted was a lifetime in which to do that.
I asked Jake to tell me what a day is like for him. I wanted him to pick one, at random, and write things down in a notebook. He has seen my notebook, so he knows the detail that's in there. Those who read my journals wonder how I can recreate whole conversations with Jake, about things that happened months ago. My notebook-words and phrases, kept in my back pocket, used constantly. Plus I also listen when people talk to me. Skip, Billy, Jake, Jeff, Matty-they all help me recreate accurate conversations. They may not be word-for-word, but the feeling is there, as is a great deal of the substance.
He protested. "I'm not a writer, like you. It would be terrible."
"It would be brilliant," I told him.
"Nobody wants to hear about me."
"Everybody wants to hear about you."
He thought about it for a minute. Then he gave me the Jake face. I haven't found a way to describe that just yet. But anyway, he was warming up to the idea.
"What to write?"
"Write down what you see so I can see it. Jeff's folk's house is familiar to me, so I can fill in the detail. Write down what you think about, what you feel. What's a morning like for you? What about school, and the afternoon. What do you do after classes, and at work, and what do you think about when you go for your walk. How do you feel at sunset, and before bedtime? I know you like the night sky. Tell me what you see up there. What do you think about before you go to sleep?"
"Jeez, I'd fill twenty notebooks then."
"Now you get the idea," I said with a smile.
"You're choice. Pick a day as you go along. Pick a couple."
"None. Just put it down in Pop's computer once you got your notes. Write like you're talking to me only. I can help you edit if you want, when you're all done."
So Jake has an assignment. Don't tell him, but it's partly to let him focus on the 'stuff' he deals with, to sort it out. And it's partly to see for himself what he feels about being Jake. I'm eager to see what he does.
Part of loving someone deeply is to be able to talk to them about anything, to persuade them, to listen without saying a word, or to answer every question they could have for you. Jake and I talked about everything. He liked to be inside my head. Sometimes he'd start 'a fight' just to see how I would handle myself. The following is a scene and a discussion during the time we were waiting to hear the decision about his name change (and for me, his adoption):
Matt had taken Joe to the mall one weekend. Joe wanted to buy a gift for his newer Mom. (He hadn't got used to calling her Mom yet since she was Andrew's mom, but he was working on it.) Matt had picked up on a signal that Jake wanted to be alone with me, even though Jake never said a word. We were sitting in his room. I was leaning up against the wall, my legs stretching the length of the bed. Jake was curled up on me, resting his head on my chest, facing me, holding my hand-something he found very comforting.
"Why do I have to be different?"
"You're not, not in the way you think."
"I'm gay. That's different enough."
"Why is that? Gay isn't different. You're like other people."
"A minority. I'm a freak."
"Okay, so am I. Daniel too."
"If you are, then I am."
"You loved Katie."
"Then I'm more of a freak."
"Aaron doesn't know if he wants a wife, or a boyfriend. What a freak!"
"I'll hurt you, I swear."
"You couldn't. Because you hated being hurt."
"But I am different, Aaron. I got a broken arm to prove it."
"You got a broken arm because your father doesn't know how to love his son. Parents with an ounce of brains do not bash their own sons and daughters. They don't have to agree with it, but they are bound to you by love."
Jake hadn't known love in too long.
"But you are not different from the general population of the world. You're different from me, and from Daniel, and from Jeff or Matty. You are Jake. You are special, individual. No one else can say that."
"No one else would want to."
"Now you stop. I love you. Does going to court help prove it?"
"I love you because you're my Jake. More so when the name change comes. Not because you're gay or not gay or anything else. I loved a man too. I made love to Andrew and let him make love to me. I had sex with him and liked it! And then I let Skip fall in love with me. I fell very hard for him. Billy loved Skip. He knew he wanted to include me in his special love."
He scowled at me. His eyes looked over my face and then landed back on my eyes.
"What's the difference between making love and having sex?"
"Sex is to get off, a need to release. Sex is a little more playful. Making love is to want nothing else but the person you're holding."
"Then I'm making love to you, right now."
Okay, so now I confused him.
"Well, maybe. But not in the real sense. Making love is with or without clothes on. It's touching and embracing. It's passion. But not necessarily to get off. Making love takes longer than having sex. The intent is different."
"If you get off, is it still making love?"
"Sure, the best kind of making love."
The scowl again. Still confused.
"Did you conceive your baby in love? Or in sex?" he asked me.
"In love, but sex too. I remember when like yesterday. And what we did to get there. We knew we wanted a baby, but how we got there was a very long and romantic journey. I knew the moment of conception, or at least I wished very hard for it to be that moment."
He looked at me, a little less confused, but not knowing the real difference yet.
"When I made love to Katie, we weren't thinking about sex. We were thinking only about holding and touching, kissing, with music in the background. I always bought her a single rose, any color I could get, when I wanted us to make love. We could be on the sofa or in front of a fireplace, even outdoors on a blanket near a stream. Making love is a mood thing, usually a quiet mood thing, for us anyway. Or we could be in our bedroom, lying together before we slept, or after we woke up. I would do what she wanted, because I cared about her. We didn't talk. I just knew."
I had to think if I wanted to say this next part or not. I ran it over in my head first. It was more confusing. Jake could tell I was thinking, so he stayed quiet. He watched me for a long while. I wasn't sure about saying anything.
"And Andrew?" he prompted.
I don't know how Jake read my mind. He could. He did. He was as good at it as Skip is, sometimes even better.
"Making love to Andrew was different. Same rules as with Katie-clothed or not, touching and holding, music or peace and quiet. But."
My throat clenched tight.
I don't know why it hurt to think about Andrew and I making love. I could think about sex with him and probably freely talk about it, especially to Jake. In my mind, I said that making love to Andrew was special, so different by degrees than with Katie. Katie and I were the same age. Andrew was younger, by a few years. With Andrew, it was a forbidden passion. It was something I couldn't share with my friends.
"Because he was a guy?" Jake asked, again inside my head, reading my thoughts.
I could feel the tears coming. Weren't they there for Katie too? Why could I talk to Jake frankly about Katie, but my throat choked off if I wanted to talk about Andrew? Jake could relate to talking about Andrew more because he too was in love with another guy.
"I felt, at first, that when I made love to Andrew that I was dishonoring the memory of my Kate. I told Andrew that. He understood, and let me work it out with him. It was a tearful weekend. When the tears were gone, I could hold on to my Andrew and show him I loved him."
"Andrew deserved your heart every bit as much as Kate did, Aaron."
"You don't believe that."
"I do. But I can't compare making love with Katie and making love with Andrew. It wasn't the same, beyond the basic physical reasons."
"You've made love with Daniel. You already know."
"I want to hear how you felt with Andrew. I already know how I feel with Daniel. What made you fall in love with Andrew?"
"His face, his eyes, his mind. His tears, his dedication to Joe through the coma, his need to care about someone."
"What about your needs?"
"Few and far between. I told myself after Katie that there would be no one else. Andrew thought it was so unfair to deny myself, or another person, love."
"Not love. Great love. Deep inside-your-heart love. And Andrew had a terrible cancer. Did that make a difference in your decision?"
"It added a sense of urgency."
"Like mine does?"
"Yes. But I don't do things for you because I think you're going to die"
I shook my head. I touched his face. If only I believed that 100%. Jake has leukemia. His odds are better by far than what Andrew had. But ...
"But you did them for Andrew, because you were afraid?"
"Yes. Not everything, because thinking he was going to die and hoping he was going to live were two very different things."
"When you made love to him, did you ever think about that being the last time?"
"Is that why it was different than Katie? You never thought once about losing Katie, right?"
"No, I never did. There are basic assumptions you make about your life. When you are young and newly married, losing your spouse is the last thing you'd think about."
"So you assumed, and conducted your life, like Katie and you had forever."
"And you made love with Andrew like it could all end tomorrow."
"You feel guilty about that. Why?"
"It wasn't fair to Andrew."
"It was fair. Andrew knew he was not going to live, long before you accepted it. Andrew wanted one thing from you-for you to feel love again despite the wall you had built around your heart. He chipped away at the wall daily. For you to love anyone had to be so special in the first place. For you to love a man was a miracle. And for you to love Andrew was a one in a million lifetime blessing, something you couldn't imagine ever in your life."
I couldn't say anything.
"I'm not confused any more. You loved Katie because she was part of your life forever, had been since you were 5 years old. I know you, so I know Katie had the best of whatever she needed from you. You still love her, with a lot of sadness."
"You loved Andrew for a lot of reasons. You loved him more deeply because, despite your hopes, Andrew would not be part of your life forever. And you still love him, with a lot of sadness, more than you've been able to bear, so you had to add guilt to the mix."
I nodded. More tears-hurting tears.
"Am I wrong, at all?"
"Don't do that to yourself. You have no right."
"But I loved someone else, when I didn't want to, when there was no way to love, and not especially loving Andrew."
"Especially loving Andrew. Andrew knew how to break down your wall. And you let him. If you didn't want him to, there was no way he ever would have."
I had to think about that.
"Tell me I'm wrong, Aaron. Tell me I'm just a stupid young kid."
"No, love, you're not stupid. I've just never put those words to it before. You're not wrong. I loved Andrew more ... "
What a terrible thought. I rubbed my head, so confused.
"Finish your sentence, Aaron"
"I loved Andrew more than Kate."
The words made me break down. I gasped for air as I cried. Jake held me. He sat up and he held my head against his shoulder. He let me alone for a few minutes.
"Listen to me, Aaron. Please."
I nodded. I lay on my back and tried to wipe the tears from my face. The words echoed through my head. 'I loved Andrew more than Kate'. How cruel.
"Because you were scared that Andrew would die without knowing you really could love him. You never had to worry about Katie dying, because she wasn't sick. You never considered Katie being killed. Nobody thinks about that. You knew, or at least you felt strongly, eventually, that Andrew would be lost to you. You had to love him more, Aaron. You had no choice."
It would take a while for that to sink in. Jake was right, about the guilt part. He listened to me talk about Katie and Andrew for the past few weeks. He heard me, so why didn't I hear me?
"You're going to beat yourself up about this, aren't you?"
He looked at me, feeling bad that he brought it up in the first place.
"Maybe. But you were right to ask the question. Don't pull away from me because you think something you ask would hurt me."
"I don't want you to be sad, or make you cry. You feel things, and I want to know about that. It'll make me better."
"I loved Katie with all my heart, Jake. We didn't fight. I never took her for granted. We worked hard. We were supposed to have a family and grow old together."
"I know. If that happened, you would have been on a different path. Ours would have never crossed. Can you be happy, even a little, that you and me are here?"
"I am happy beyond anything you can feel that you and me are here, love. I'm going to prove that to you by something I'm doing."
"What are you doing?"
"I can't tell you. I'm afraid to jinx it. I can't tell anyone, because then it won't happen."
"I trust you."
I nodded, glad for that.
"I love you, you know. I'm going to have a life because of everything you do for me. I have to tell you something."
He was sad-faced again. I was listening.
"I would have given up on chemo because of what my father was doing to me. I thought about dying, to save myself from my father, because I would not be able to take one more beating. He hurt me worse than the cancer could. I wished that he'd break a rib and push it into my heart. I couldn't run. He'd find me if I ran. But if I died ... "
I pulled him into my arms. I kissed his cheek and then his forehead. I could not imagine what Jake lived through every day. It was like Hell on Earth. It wasn't a life. Dying really would have been better than that. I closed my eyes and I prayed so hard for his adoption. It would have been cruel to us both for that to be denied. If it wouldn't happen in Pennsylvania, I would find a new home for us and try again. I wanted Jake to be my son, no longer his father's son. Jake did not love his father. He barely loved his mother. But he loved me so purely, so deeply. I wanted to tell him what I was up to, but if I did, it would not happen. Like Jake with his beatings, I could not be a loser three times. Katie gone and Andrew gone were enough, more than enough. Jake gone too? No. I wouldn't stand for that. He was so deeply rooted in my heart and soul this very moment that to be denied anything, including adoption, would break my spirit forever. Jake was my miracle.
"You won't die now, love. I'll love you for the rest of my life. We'll find a way to get your leukemia gone. Skip is going to go through the medical steps necessary to see if he can donate bone marrow for you. You both have the same blood type."
"He'd do that for me?"
"Why not call and talk to him?"
"I believe you of course. I talked to my oncologist. I know what it'll take on both sides. It could be awful."
"I know, love. I talked to Andrew in DC. He told me about it too. It's still better than having to endure chemo."
"What about for you?"
"A bone marrow donation won't help me. I'm growing tumors, remember?"
"Yeah. So it's a tissue thing, at its root. It's not DNA, like your CMT is. Proteins. Enzymes. Molecules. Tiny little shit going on inside of you."
"I'm okay love. So are you, in our moments."
"Because of you. You teach me things; life things and love things. I don't care if the court won't let me change my name. I love you anyway, and I'm going to be your boy, somehow."
"You are my boy. Nobody would ever deny us that much. You have a safe home to come to. That's better than you had before."
"And I have you to love, and to love me back. That's fierce. It doesn't get any better than to have Aaron's love. Everything else is just fluff when it comes to my life. Daniel excluded, naturally."
He made me smile. He smiled too. He put his arms around me. We lay there for a long while and held on. We dozed off together, face to face. For the moment, the world didn't matter. My boy, for me to love and to love me back, was as good as it would get. That is, indeed, as Jake put it, fierce.
I watched for mail every day. I looked at the calendar hanging in my kitchen, trying to figure out when news would arrive. Jake did the same, I noticed.
"The court won't say no to a name change, love. The attorney will help. My judge friend is a character witness for me. Jeff put in his two cents for me. A name change won't be a big deal, you'll see."
"Then why do you watch the calendar every day, like it's a crystal ball?"
"I didn't realize you saw me."
"You see me too. I'm doing it like you are."
"Not entirely," I said under my breath.
"Nothing. You up for a walk around the neighborhood? I didn't get out at lunch today so I'm starved for fresh air."
"Yeah. I'll go get our jackets."
We walked out and turned right, passing in front of the building next to mine. I had my hands in my pockets because the air was cold. Jake moved closer to me and put his left hand in my pocket. I looked at him as he looked at me.
"Is that okay?"
"Oh yeah, love." I squeezed his hand as we intertwined our fingers. He smiled.
"I will always love you. Thank you for talking to me at the hospital when we first met. I know now that I scared you because I have Andrew's eyes. Thank you for fighting with me when I needed to hear something that I didn't want to. Thank you for not letting me be selfish."
"You are welcome, for everything. Thank you for trusting me. Thank you, so much, for loving me."
We walked to the basketball and tennis courts near the entrance to the condo complex. We stopped a moment. This was my favorite place to be. Jake knew that.
"This is a sacred place to you, too. Not like the pond, but close."
"Yes. Do you play?"
"I wish I knew how to play, like you do. Three-point shots, like that."
"I could teach you, when you're ready."
We walked up the hill and turned left onto a local street, and then left again onto the state highway. There was a pasture all around. We walked on a very winding road; no different than the road we walked together in Jake's quest to have a new name. I wanted to tell him that I had amended the application, but I couldn't. This is the only secret I would keep from Jake. He wouldn't be mad. He would wonder why I didn't trust him to know. But it wasn't about trust. I'm not overly superstitious, but I knew that if I told Jake, it would never happen. I would jinx it and I would lose my son.
I didn't want to get too far from home. Jake's joints hurt him, because of the leukemia. He would push himself, but I didn't want him to go beyond reason. I pushed too, but I knew my upper limit. If I went too far, and no one was with me to rescue me, I risked too much.
We walked back toward the local neighborhood. He was breathing hard by the time we got back home. I picked him up and carried him up the steps. He opened the door for us. I put him on the sofa and took his jacket off.
"You guys okay?" asked Matt, coming into the living room from down the hall.
"Yeah. We had a long walk. A little tired is all. How about some juice, love"
Jake nodded. Matty told me to sit tight. He'd get some for both of us. I lay behind Jake on the sofa. Matt came back and sat on the floor in front of us.
"You're really pale," Matt said to Jake. He felt his forehead. He went into the bathroom to get the thermometer to check his temp. "100.8. Not too bad; probably pretty normal. Where did you walk to?"
"The old barn. It was quite a walk."
Matt put the thermometer in my ear too.
"102 for you bud. Time to rest. I'll help with dinner later."
Still looking back a bit, Friday was my Day 2, and Jake's Day 1. I arrived at 4:30 as usual. Doc told me softly that today was also bone marrow day. I always knew at the last moment, because anxiety would drive me insane to know ahead of time. He and I went down the hall to an exam room. He had two samples to draw, one from my hip and one from my breastbone. Blood tests would show only so much. The real course of my cancer showed in the cells within my bone marrow and in my tissues. I changed into gym shorts. I took off my shirt. Doc swabbed down my chest. There was no local anesthetic for this. This is 18th century medicine. I lay flat on my back and put my hands under my butt, like I had taught Jake. I closed my eyes and I took my mind as far away as I could run in the short time it would take to do the aspiration. The first few times I ever had this done, I passed out. It was too much to bear. It was cruel torture, mind numbing in its ugliness of a doctor invading and terrorizing a patient's body. I lay still while he pulled my gym shorts down a bit to get at my hip. I kept my eyes closed while he tapped for the second sample. It hurt only minimally less than the first.
"Doc, Jake doesn't have to do this today, does he?"
He disappeared for a few moments. I pulled my shorts back up and put on a t-shirt. I tied my Nikes.
"Not today, Aaron. Not for another couple weeks."
Jake arrived a few minutes after 5:00, from the bus. I wasn't in the treatment room yet, but he knew I was here because my stuff sat beside my lounge chair. When I came in, I gave him a long hug before he gets hooked up. Jeff would be here in a while too.
This is where we had met, but I so hated to see him here. Jake's lady doc put the IV in his butterfly. She went to attend to another patient. Doc puts mine into my hip.
Doctor Toddman is a researcher, like Andrew in DC. He doesn't have a practice. I'm his lab rat. Mostly willingly. I have to think about that sometimes, wondering if the standard protocol would help me more than the latest under-test drugs. Someone has to test. There would be no 'standard protocol' now, like Jake is on, if it weren't for people like me who tested the more advanced drugs. Little buddy Ben is taking only injections, with a high success rate, because 5 and 10 years ago young patients were willing to take a risk.
Jake knows I'm taking 'tomorrow's drugs' in my IV. He watches me as Doc finishes hooking me up and starts the flow. Even with a saline solution, mine burn at the beginning of the flow. Doc always stands and holds my hand in his, bracing me for the first 3 or 4 minutes of pain. I try to keep focused on Jake, pushing it out of my mind, but I can't. My breath draws in sharply as the fire enters my hip. I cry out, looking up at the ceiling. I try so hard not to, but I just do. It startled Jake. He's never seen this. He usually arrives later, after I'm already well into it. I get hot. I'll sweat profusely for about 10 minutes and then I'll be so cold for the next two hours. Doc wipes my forehead with a cool cloth until the heat passes.
He goes to the closet and gets me a blanket. He wraps me up in it because I'll be shivering in a few minutes if he doesn't. He gets another for Jake because he knows Jake gets cold, and that he likes to nap. Then Doc goes to the lab with my two bone marrow samples.
Jeff comes in. He comes over to me and kisses me on my forehead, putting his hand on my face to make sure I'm not still too hot.
"No, I'm cold already. There's no heat left in my body, love. I'm so cold. I need to sleep a while. Take care of my boy. I'm going to sleep."
Jake had heard me. He was so sad. We had different cancers but we went through much of the same things. Jeff sat beside Jake, pulling the blanket around him, and tucking Jake's head into his shoulder. I lie back watching them while they lie together watching me.
"I love you, Aaron. Please know that," said Jake.
"I do know, bud. I love you, too."
I pushed the blanket down a moment. I put my hand on my heart for a moment and then raised my palm to Jake. He raised his palm toward me and then touched his heart. After a moment, he raised his palm back to me. I raised my palm back to him, and then touched my heart.
Ideally, we would be sitting close together, so I could touch my heart, then his, then back to mine.
"My heart to your heart, your heart to my heart. Love will always be, beyond the bounds of death."
He smiled at me. This is my heart-love for Jake. He loved the gesture. He loved the words. I had already taught Jake my very special 'heart love' symbolism. Doing it the way I just did tells him how deeply I feel, because he already knows the true meaning of what I said.
Only six people have ever shared that with me, Jake being the 6th. It started with Katie. The first time I taught her, she cried. We were 15, maybe 16 if I remember. It left no doubt about how I felt about loving her. I had used it, carefully, on many occasions after that.
I had not learned it from anyone. It started in my thoughts. It was not done lightly. It was not just the words ... there must be a one-on-one physical sharing of it. Done properly it can be very emotional. It should also be done shirtless. (Yes, even with Katie, so there).
The second time I shared it was in college, with my very longtime friend Jason. He broke down when he realized how deep the meaning was. He had taught his wife-to-be, and he had taught his children when they were old enough to know. It lived through all his life.
Andrew was my third. We were alone under the full moon one summer night. We talked about life and death. And love. Sharing this was the turning point from him being my friend to me loving him deeply. He knew, without a doubt, that I loved him. He held me and wept for ten minutes after I shared.
Jeff learned about 'heart love' many months into our friendship. He too broke down, deeply moved by the meaning and the words, by the touching. I had been recovering from a long bout with rejecting my second kidney. He did not know, still, if I would live or die. I told him I loved him but the words didn't sink in because he was too scared. Under a spring sky one Saturday afternoon, I told him again, using heart love. The words sank in that time. He accepted I would live, at least for now, because of his love for me, mine for him. Jeff shared it with Kelly a long while later. They will share it with their Jordan when he grows up.
Matt learned the meaning of my special love expression a while later. He had been through an exhausting few months with me; holding my head through long bouts of nausea, driving me to and from two sessions a week, and waiting through bone marrow tests outside the room (it's too personal; no one can share it with me). He was depressed, to the point he wanted to ask his doctor about medication for his moods. I took him on the long walk to the pond one Saturday instead. I told him how I felt about him but, like Jeff, it wasn't sinking in. He was too tired and he was so scared for me. I sat down facing him. I told him to listen to me, and not to say anything. I said it slowly, and then I repeated it. He heard me. He understood me. He knew, somehow, that this was not shared with everyone. He hugged me close and cried. He knew this special thing between us would take care of the doubts. It did. Matty was Matty again in a couple of days. He asked me if he could share it with Ginny. I told him yes, but it had to be at a moment when it meant something, like between us just now.
I will teach Joe in time.
And it is not done in E-mail because it's just words. I've tried to make it special that way, but it isn't. It has to be done face to face, in a quiet moment alone.
With Jake, it was very emotional. It was one of my post-Christmas gifts. We had known each other almost three months, and I knew how I felt about him. He had lost so much. I wasn't sure that gaining me as a friend was the best for him. I wanted it to be, so very badly. I wanted to be the most important person in Jake's life. We went for a walk. He told me all the things he was afraid of. It was just at the point where we had successfully contacted his mom. He was so torn about the life he left and starting over again. He was afraid for me, being so sick from chemo and from the cancer.
"I may not be here through all your life, bud. But I want you to know how I feel about you right now. I can tell you I love you, but you might blow it off as not important."
"I wouldn't. I know you love me, Aaron. You've said it, and you've proved it."
"I want to show you something. It will add one more proof in the words. I know it's cold out here, but I need you to take your shirt off for a few minutes. Is that okay?"
I took mine off. He accepted it and did the same.
"This is called 'heart love'. There is probably a better phrase for it, but I've called it that for over 25 years."
I spread my legs so he could sit closer to me. We were both cold already but it couldn't be rushed. I held his hand while I talked to him.
"I love you, Jake. You know the words and you know what they mean. You're fearful of things, rightfully so. You've seen too many changes in so short a time. I will do anything for you, within my power and resources. My home is yours. My life is yours if you'll take it. I can't help but think that in a few weeks time the stresses will be gone and you'll be on the track you want again, away from the pain you've had to feel in the past. I don't believe in adversity making you stronger. It can suck away your energy and your desire to live from you. But I want you to know a good life. That life includes my commitment to loving you."
A tear flowed from his eye. I reached up with my thumb and pushed it aside. I touched his face. He is so beautiful. Could he be my son? I had to push the thought out of my head for now. It was safely tucked away elsewhere.
"I love you very dearly my Jake, from my heart ... "
I touched my heart, palm flat on my chest, for a long moment, pulling out the warmth.
" ... to your heart".
I put my hand over his heart, and shared the warmth with him. He closed his eyes and drew in his breath slowly. I don't know why, but it is a natural instinct to do so. Everybody I have showed this to does that. There have been no exceptions when I went heart to heart.
"From your heart ... to my heart".
I took my hand off his chest and put it back on mine. I closed my eyes to let the warmth return.
When I opened my eyes again, Jake moved closer yet to me. He put both arms around me. He kissed me very lightly on my lips, then my cheek, and my forehead. He put his face into my neck and wept. I held him close to me, letting him cry it out.
"My Aaron. Awww, that was unlike anything I've ever felt. I'm drained and renewed at the same time. My chest tingled as I felt your warmth flow inside from your hand. Was that supposed to happen?"
"Yes." I choked up. No one ever said that before, except Andrew.
"Did you take yours back?"
"No. I gave you mine, then took yours into mine. You have my love and heart; and I have yours."
"Awesome. Then I have yours for always? And you have mine?"
"Yeah. Is that okay?"
"That's more than okay. That's what love is. You give to me and I give back to you. But this was so special, not just words. I felt you inside me. I hope you felt me too."
"I did. I will forever now. You are inside me for all my life."
"Wow. Thank you. That's an incredible gift to share."
I smiled. I gave him back his two shirts and jacket. I put my sweatshirt and jacket back on too.
There are other things you need to know. I want you to take these to heart, love. Because ... because I don't know how long I'll have you."
"Aaron. I'm not going anywhere. Tell me what I need to know."
I waited until I could put my first thought together. It had to make sense to him or he wouldn't buy it. Worse, he wouldn't live it. He kissed my forehead. "Tell me."
"Being a survivor means nothing if you cannot live."
"I can live, Aaron. I don't know if I can survive this. But I can surely live. What else?"
"Tell me why you think we fall."
He didn't pause a nanosecond to think about it.
"So we can learn to pick ourselves up. So we can carry on."
I nodded, thoroughly impressed. I knew then that we make each other one soul in two bodies. I loved Jake more than anyone, ever, in my life. More than Skip and Billy, more than Kate, more than Andrew. Harsh and cruel maybe, and I would be bitterly disappointed if he could not be my son. I could be patient in everything except this.
"Finish this thought-I wouldn't presume to tell you what to do with your past ... "
" ... just know that there are those of us who care what you do with your future."
Only a moment's pause before he finished my thought. It was quite complex thought. He nailed it. I needed to know more though.
"Who are they Jake?"
"You. Skip. Billy. Matt & Ginny. Jeff & Kelly. My mom maybe."
"I dunno about your mom either. I don't feel much for her."
"I do. I don't blame you for hating her."
"I don't hate, Jake. Your father, yes. I despise the bastard. But no--I don't approve of your mother though. She hurt you as much as your father did."
"I'm not trying to be cruel, love. Just honest. You need to know all about me if you want my name."
"I know you're the best person I ever met," he said, touching my cheek. "You have a heart for me. I never had that, not even with Daniel. Daniel and I are too new."
"He loves you."
"He's in love with me. And I'm in love with him. But ... "
"I know. I do know, Jake. That's why we're here at this moment."
"What happens if I can't have your name?"
"It's just a name. It doesn't define you."
"Yours does. You bring amazing pride to your family. I have to have your name."
'And I have to have YOU as my son,' I said to myself. "You can have anything you want, love. We have each other, from the moment you made me love you."
"How did I?"
"By being in your chemo chair on the day I met you."
"No. I don't believe in coincidence. All, or most, things for a reason."
"Kate? Your son?"
"The exception," I said right away. 'And I don't' need a friggin' piece of paper to make you my son,' I thought. But I did, in some small way. The larger part of my life will always have Jake in it. My son will be my son by heart, not **just** in a legal document. The legal document gave me one thing only-validation that I am doing right by Jake.
"If I can't have your name ... "
His voice cracked. A tear appeared in his eye. He wiped it away quickly.
"Will I have you anyway?"
He smiled brightly. If you've ever seen Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter smile sweetly, you'll know exactly how Jake smiles always.
"How about this one-Start pretending to have fun. You might even ... "
" ... have a little by accident," he finished.
"Can you do that? Pretend?"
"No. I trust that you're going to make that a moot point."
"I hope so," I said with a little sadness.
What's ahead for us?
"Our whole lives," he said to me.
"Can you read me?" I asked, just as I had asked Skip.
"Maybe. You're not very complex really. A deep thinker, yes, but a very kind man."
"Last one-It's not who you are underneath. It's ... "
" ... what you do that defines you."
"Yeah. Yeah love, you really can read me."
Jake touched my cheek once more.
"Do we have to go back home yet?"
"Only if you want to."
"Not yet," he said.
He turned around and backed up against me. I wrapped both arms around his chest as he leaned into me. We watched the cold night sky together. We were quiet for a long while. I put my hand back on his heart, inside his jacket. I could feel it beating strongly within him. He put one hand on top of mine.
"Does it get any better than this?" he asked me.
"For the moment, no. Love is the best there is."
"No, love with you is the best there is. You're the master."
"Only with those I chose to share it with. Some people think I'm a prick. I can be as tough as I can be gentle. Some would say I'm a bad influence on you, that I shouldn't support your feelings and your love for Daniel. They think I can make you straight."
He laughed. "Please don't, even if you could. I love Daniel. I don't want to be someone's dumb idea of straight. It's a stupid label. Andrew is the first man you've ever looked at and held so close. I saw how you were with Skip and Billy. Daniel is the only man I've ever looked at. Someday I will show him 'heart love'. After experiencing it, there is no better phrase, Aaron. That's what it is."
"Daniel loves you too. If you look at his eyes when he's looking at you, you know. I've seen it. He thinks you're the best thing there is."
"He still isn't sure about sleeping with me yet. Or having sex with me. He's worried."
"He has nothing to worry about. He should hold you. He should make love to you. Rescuing you that night isn't enough. Make love to him, Jake, and mean it. Your dick is 1% of what you are. Love him and tell him to love you. You both deserve that."
"You're amazing. What parent would let their son, or daughter, have the freedom you give me?"
"I'm not your parent. I know what love is and so do you. You're 20. If you get pregnant, don't blame me though."
I caught him off guard. He was silent for a moment, and then he laughed out loud.
"Just checking, love. Just checking."
It was time to get home. The air was colder and I didn't want either one of us sick. He held my hand again, in my pocket. Jake had so much love to give that he didn't mind giving a lot of it to me. I gladly accepted it.
Five weeks passed so slowly I couldn't stand it. I fell asleep at night scared. I would wake in the middle of the night in a panic, seeing DENIED stamped across a piece of paper in my dreams. One night I got up to get some water. It was after 2:00 a.m. I looked in on Jake.
"Aaron?" he said softly in the dark.
"Sorry love. I didn't mean to wake you up."
I sat on the edge of the bed next to him.
"You didn't. I can't sleep. I had a nightmare a while ago. I don't feel like sleeping."
"Can I hold you, love?"
"You don't have to ask first."
He moved over closer to the wall. I lie down beside him, facing him, and then pulled him to me. I put one arm around his shoulder and held his hand.
"I wish the nightmares would go away, Jake. Real life is bad enough. You shouldn't have to live it over again in nightmares."
"Yours too. They're worse than mine."
"What are yours about?"
"I'm hiding in the garage. He finds me. I dream about being chased, and getting tackled. He sits on my stomach and hits me. Then he balls up his fist and strikes my face. He grabs me by my hair and pounds my head against the ground. Sometimes I wake up there. Sometimes I relive that he broke my arm."
"Your nightmares don't come out of a dream. Your nightmares are reality, the badness of reality, brought to life."
"Yeah." He squeezed my hand.
"It won't ever happen again, love. No one is going to touch you if you don't want. That's why I ask if I can hold you. I try not to move around you suddenly either. Whenever I see you wince around me, I'm not being careful enough."
"I don't worry around you. You wouldn't hurt me."
"No. You're my boy and I'll watch out for you."
"I wish you were my dad. I would be so good to you."
"Do you believe in wishes?"
"Sometimes. Daniel says to take a wish and make it real. A wish is not as good as a dream, but dreams should be brought to life."
"Nice. I love knowing about Daniel from your point of view, and then of mine."
I held my Jake in the dark. He went back to sleep. I did too, but not right away. I had some things to talk to God about first.
"Thank you for bringing Jake into my life. Thank you for letting me know how to care for him, to help him live again. Please God, let Jake be my son. It's not wrong if he wants it."
I closed my eyes. I slept peacefully until 6:00 a.m. Jake still slept peacefully. I kissed him, inadvertently waking him up. He rolled his head left and looked into my eyes.
"I have something to tell you. I don't care about the paper. You are my Dad, Aaron. You proved that. I know you-you'll keep proving it."
"I will," I said simply.
And then the mail came. My heart stopped. There was an envelope from the district court judge. I wanted news, good or bad, to come from him. I did not want a phone call. The attorney I had worked with had done as I asked and sent the papers to the court's office. Nobody was home yet. Jake would be in class. Daniel had an hour to go at work, and then would go pick Jake up. Jeff and Matt were at work. The girls would be home from school just about now. It was just me.
I stood at the front door, fixed in place, scared to move. How my life and Jake's life went, from this moment forward, was in this envelope. Then again, Jake said it wouldn't. But this was still validation that I was doing it right by Jake. I held it and willed it to be good news. I put the key in the lock, opened the door, closed it, and sat on the floor in the living room.
I used a letter opener to open the packet. There were a lot of papers inside. I leafed through them all. The one I wanted was on the bottom. I read it. My throat seized up. I read it again to make sure I didn't miss any of the words. It was dated Thursday, January 31st, 2002. Today was February 1st, 2002. Today marked a 'moving forward' point for us. There would be no looking back.
NOW was the finest moment ever in my life. If I had more faith, I would open this in Jake's presence. I was too scared to. Jake was the best my life would ever be. Better than loving Katie; better even than loving Andrew. Equal to Skip and Billy as hard as it would be to make that true. This is the reason I went to my sacred place to think about my life. Jake had come into my life in answer to the questions I asked constantly about living. Or dying.
I cried, maybe as hard as I ever have. I dropped the papers and I held myself, down on my knees, as blessed a man as ever there was on Earth today. Nothing would be the same for us, ever again. Jake had his freedom from his father--and Jake, not knowing it yet, had what he wanted most. My family name to honor as his own, for all his life.
He was 'my Jake' now, by every measure than meant anything to the world-at-large. He would have been anyway, even without a legal paper pile. He could now legally have my family name. He could sign "James Langille" to any document and it would stand strong in court.
Jake was my boy the moment I took him away from his parents. His life and well-being were mine because I was the only person he had who loved him this way.
When he came home, I held him close to me.
"You went overboard. Again. You always do. Not that that's a bad thing."
He looked up into my eyes, brushed tears from each cheek aside with his thumbs, and kissed me softly and sweetly on my lips. Then he held me for life.
This is what love means to a man ... and to his son.
Comments: ajlangille [at] gmail [dot] com