Skip - Part 60
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.
All of this played back to me as I lay in the hospital in DC. I was away from Jake, some four hours away. I'll be back in Philly soon. Skip and Billy were worlds away-again. We didn't get used to that because we didn't want to. We are supposed to be together.
"I'm going to donate ... bone marrow for ... Jake," Skip told me. He did not ask me because I would say no. I know what it involves. However, Skip is not into arguing.
It is a very painful process to harvest bone marrow. Jake would have high-dose chemo and a few radiation treatments. This would kill off his own bone marrow. He would have to be isolated for a long while later. He would be open to infections. He'll wish he had never told Skip he'd accept Skip's gift. Skip will hurt, but he will hurt for Jake's pain much more. I'm not the only one who loves Jake. I was only the first to do so.
But for Jake, existing is not a life. Existing sucks. It would be so hard for Skip and Jake. They both would exist for a time. I sighed into the phone. Skip did not say anything more.
"I know what ... you're thinking. I don't ... care. It's for Jake. It's ... for you eventually. But ... for Jake first."
"Okay. How does Jake feel about it?"
"I talked to him. He's okay about me donating. We ... won't tell you ... when ... or where."
"I want to know."
That would be that. It's for Jake. It's also for Skip because Skip wants and needs to do something. He is not the type to sit back when he knows he can help. He would have gotten medical approval before talking to Jake. My guess was it would be done in Philly. Or Washington. It would be done soon, probably as soon as Jake finished the semester.
It had taken a long while to find my son. Skip would not let me lose him, ever, for any reason. I knew this. This is why I said "Ok" to Skip.
"How close a match are you? Just curious."
"Wow. As good as family."
"Better," he said, though not smugly.
He was right. His father would not do this to save Jake's life. His mom ... who knows? But Jake did not ask his mom. She would not know about this until it was done.
Billy might have been a backup if Skip were refused. He had blood tests just in case. He was 93% blood compatible with Jake. He had already donated blood platelets for Jake because Jake had internal bleeding issues. I would later find out that he donated for Jake nine times. Bless Billy.
The BC boys would then have lined up behind Billy until one of them was found to be a good bone marrow match. The only reason that would happen is if either Skip or Billy were medically disqualified. The medical community did not hold Skip's quadriplegia against him, nor Billy's past brain trauma against him.
Anyway, Skip was not refused. And this is the only way we can ensure Jake will not die. Period.
As for me, only my heart is compatible with Jake.
"Works for me, Dad. How come I get the best part?"
"I dunno, love. If I can't help you survive, I can at least help you live."
"I like that. I'd rather live than survive. Night and day difference, to me anyway."
"Me too bud. I love you Jake."
"I love you Daddy."
I closed my eyes and quietly hung up the phone. I took those words into sleep with me. I woke in the morning and heard them in a faint but distinct echo. Jake loves his Dad. His Dad loves Jake.
Andy Jr. and Louisa gave me my daily hugs as they got their school gear together. Andrew carried me out to the car. We drove to Bethesda. Andrew was quiet. His mind ran at a thousand miles an hour. The peaceful exterior did not fool me. He looked over at me and smiled.
Dr. Brian Felton walked down the hall in the Neurology Department as Andrew wheeled me into the department. He sat with me and took notes as his staff poked, prodded, and helped me work my legs. Andrew sat by as well. He knew the tumors on my spine were mainly his concern, but keeping my muscles from atrophying was Brian's concern.
Claire and I were in the kitchen one weekend (I got a day pass from the med center), making muffins to serve with dinner. She read the recipe while I did the assembly.
"400 grams of butternut squash"
"A pound of butternut squash."
400 grams of brown sugar.
"Two and a quarter cups of brown sugar."
"Aaron?" she said with a smirk and then a laugh.
"Yeah?" I said as I added light brown sugar to the food processor.
"Um. Never mind."
She continued to read her recipe.
"Four large eggs."
"Un. Deux. Trois. Quatre," I counted in French. "Got it."
"300 grams of flour"
"Two and a half cups of flour. Uh, sifted or unsifted."
"Three-quarter cup extra-virgin olive oil"
"178 ml e-v-o-o."
This time she laughed out loud. I smirked.
"I grew up French-Canadian. We do metric," I said with a sly smile.
Friend Jason, my longest time friend, came to visit me and to stay overnight with me at the hospital. I had planned on being home, at Andrew and Claire's, for the weekend. I had an infection that needed closer attention than home care could give me.
"Here's your afternoon mail male," said Donna laughing as she showed Jason where I could be found. I was sitting outside on the patio, my face to the sun.
"Special delivery. Sweet!"
"Hi my bud. I know you like being near me, but you should be with your Jake instead."
"Trying bud, trying. I did miss you though. Sometimes the phone just doesn't cut it."
"I love you too, bro," he said as he knelt beside me.
He kissed my forehead. As he pulled away, I pulled him back. I kissed him on his lips this time.
"Yeah. Sucks to be here nursing my freakin' legs when I could be closer to Jake. He's still at school, but ... "
"Sshhhh. You know he wants you to take care of yourself first. He's in good hands."
"And so are you. Or good arms," he said as he hugged me. He kissed my neck.
"Thanks for coming. You okay?"
"Better than you."
"Yeah, well ... "
It was not a question. I nodded. He shook his head sadly. Jason does not hold on to sadness though. He has known me since college, since 1978. He has seen something bigger than tumors bring me to my knees. He saw me stand up and keep walking. That's what we do. If you drop to your knees and stay there, someone will eventually kick you while you're down. A good man would reach down a hand. Jason is the good man.
He brought me inside for a few minutes so I could pee. He had noticed the large glass of what was probably iced tea sitting beside me. Like Skip, I could not tell when I had to pee so I did it by the clock.
"Let's go back outside. It's a nice day."
He agreed. I was already mostly dressed. He put my socks on me and tied my Nikes to my feet. He could not do what Mark did-covet my Nikes. Mine were too small for him. I'll withhold the 'clown feet' remark. Maybe not.
He turned his back to me and backed up. I put my arms around his shoulders and he wrapped my legs around his waist. Okay, so no wheelchair. I don't argue with someone more fun than I am. We roared through the hallways and then outside to one of the courtyards. He put me down under an oak tree and then sat holding my hands.
"Next time you come, if I'm still here, bring your basketball."
"I did. But it's in my car about 141.25 miles away. This place is so huge!"
"I hear you. How you even find me is a quest in itself."
"You're worth finding. Lemme hold you for a few minutes. I could use a quiet moment."
He got behind me and held me like I hold anyone that I love, especially how I hold Jake.
"What can I do for you love? You must be frustrated. How's Jake taking to you being here?"
"First, keep doing what you are. It's enough and then some. Jake and I talk during the week. You'll love him when you finally meet him. Amazing young man."
"No doubt. Like his Dad. I dunno know though. Holding on to you isn't ... "
"Sshhhh. It is. Who else is here, doing this?"
"Any number would want to. It doesn't make me more special because I'm here now. All you mates love you. When I heard you adopted young Jake, I was as proud of you as I've ever been, and that's saying something."
"I'm just me. A more complete me though."
"I was so sad for you for a long time. You're right about being complete. Even Skip and Billy couldn't bring you to that level. You needed a son. You deserved it more than anyone I know."
"Lots of people don't have sons. Jake had to be sick before our paths crossed."
"Sick is one thing. Tortured is another. All things ... okay, most things ... for a reason. Jake needed you. Not just someone like you. You."
I nodded. No way to argue with that. I smiled as I thought about my son. Jason kissed my neck and held me. He's a dad too, and a fine one. He does not beat his children. He would like a go at Jake's father though. He'll have to stand in line though, like everyone else. Jake's father is now a lonely man who has no clue why he's lonely. Sad. Pathetic, really, and deserved. His misery is self-inflicted. I won't shed a tear for that bastard.
"Easy love. Don't think about him. He's not worth it."
Jason must have felt me tense up. I let it go. We spent the afternoon outside. When it was time to eat, he took me to the cafeteria. We had told Donna I wouldn't be ordering a dinner tray. After dinner, we went for a long walk, at least he did, with me pretending to be a backpack.
"Are you horny or did you just put a gun in my back," he said, grinning.
"I can find us a private place. You know I don't mind."
"Okay. Yeah I'm a bit hard up."
He did find us a private place. After he set me down, he knelt long enough to help me push my jeans down a bit.
"Let me," he said. "I know how you like it. Close your eyes and think about your two best buds."
He made it easy for me. Jason always was able to put me at ease, no matter what. He did not need to get off but he had no problem that I did. He stroked me just right as I rested my head against the tree. A tear broke loose from my eye and fell down my cheek.
"Oh geez, am I hurting you Aaron?"
He pulled his hand away quickly.
"No bud. Just homesick." I shrugged. "You don't have to do this. Will you just hold me?"
He got behind me and held me, but he kept up his 'helping hand' too. Jason is like my Skip and Billy-very unselfish. It did feel good, of course. He was not embarrassed by my dick nor my tears. I was embarrassed by my tears but they were all for love. He knew that. He held me close with his left arm and he kissed me on my neck a couple of times. He took his time helping me out, just as he always had in the past.
"I like being your buddy in all the flavors that I can be," he said to me. He looked into my eyes as he said it. Being a jack-off buddy was back to the 1% magic number. That just meant he loved me 101%. 1978 to 2002-and barely a week, two at most, ever went by that either of us called the other.
"Coming love," I said as I went off.
He continued to stroke me through it, cleaned me up, put me back together, and then held on while he whispered nice things in my ear. It was after sunset before he picked me up again and carried me back to my room. He took his time as we watched a few of the stars emerge. I know I wasn't too heavy for him. He's about my height of 5'11" but he's normal weight. His arms are strong because he works out a few times a week.
Donna was on her way home for the night when we passed her in the corridor. She took my hand a moment and then kissed my cheek. We said good night and she went home to her family. Jess, my overnight nurse was at the nurse's station when we trotted by. She laughed and shook her head at our antics. She knew that Jason would be staying overnight. She worried more about me than Donna did, only because she had known me less time. We would be fine. She always sat with me and my company off and on during the early evening.
He took my Nikes and socks off, and then took off his. He climbed onto the bed with me and continued to hold me where he had left off outdoors. He lay on his side up against me, interlocking our legs. Jason put his hand under my t-shirt and ran his hand slowly up and down my spine, wondering what horrors lay within.
"Yeah, hot spots. Just slightly, but still noticeable. It sucks Aaron. I can't help but feel sad for you. How long is it gonna take to remove them?"
"As long as it has to bro. Andrew isn't going to let us down."
"I know. But still ... "
"Sshhhh, easy bro. You know that worrying is a waste of good energy. I've been through worse. I know you love me, so do that. It's a hard enough job anyway."
"Not even close. Loving you is as good as it gets."
"Nah ah. Your family."
"I love them a lot, but differently than I love you. I can manage both ways just fine. You're more important for now."
"Can't make me. I've known you a long time. Longer than anyone outside your hometown. How I feel about you is not linear across those years, it's exponential. My world without Aaron Jamison Langille would suck."
"You give me too much credit bro."
"Tell that to Jake. Skip and Billy too. Jake needs his Dad. Skip and Billy need their heart-mate. None of them will live a good life without you."
"Skip and Billy are Jake's as much as I am."
"No disrespect intended but they aren't Jake's Dad. Capital D. YOU will live a long time if only for your son. You waited way too long for him. You had to lose three others first, which sucks too, but I know he makes up for it in some way."
"In every way."
"Can I kiss you? I mean ... "
He did. It was sweet and it said all the things that Skip and Billy could say in a kiss. No words were needed. He looked into my eyes as a tear fell down his cheek. He tucked into my neck and sobbed softly for a while. I turned as best I could and held him tight. I had to know something. I reached down between us and into his jeans. He was hard as could be.
"Your turn. Okay?"
I wiped his face. He nodded. "Yeah. If you ... "
He got off the bed and then went around to the other side, sliding me over. I'm right-handed and I wanted to treat him right. I undid his jeans and took his dick into my hand. I looked into his eyes, paying attention to his thoughts.
"Feels nice, like always. Sorry for ... "
"No need bro. No worries. I'd feel the way you do if it were you. No shame in tears. You're my brother as much as Brad is. I'm not telling you anything you don't know."
"Nice to hear it though."
"Hear this too. I love you so very much."
He smiled. He knew that, but it too was nice to hear. Not 'gay' love. Brother to brother, heart to heart. He gave up being with his family to be with me. Few would do that. Jason was not like anyone else. Unique and very special.
It took a while, which I knew it would. Jason could hold off because I had taught him about edging. He had good 'stamina genes' anyway because he liked the intimacy of us. No one else did this to him. He let me be special in a lot of ways, but he was equally brilliant in my heart. I had confessed to Skip and Billy once that I sometimes thought of Jason while the boys and I were being intimate. They understood because they knew our history as friends. Jason was part of our circle of friends when we had all lived in New Hampshire. Jason was the reason Skip came to me in the first place. There was no way to repay that.
We continued to kiss deeply as I stroked him. He checked the condition of my dick. I shook my head a bit.
"On purpose, bro. This is your time, not mine. We'll have other times to be mutual. You can be selfish just a little."
"Can be. But don't make a habit of it."
"The moments we're in," I said.
He nodded. Finally, it was all too much for him and he exploded all over his chest and stomach. One more well placed shot hit my cheek. I skimmed it off my cheek and put my finger in my mouth. Then I leaned down and cleaned him up, like he had done for me. No, we don't waste cum. We would never fuck because we never had a need to. But taking a taste of each other was nice and we did it each time.
"Thanks Aaron. I'm okay now. You have a knack."
"A talent everyone should have. I wish we could be cloned so the wars and stupidness would go away for good."
"Nope. We're unique and special. That's just something that we teach. My kids will never be 'stupid' to another person. They won't let others be stupid to them either."
"Would you feel bad if one of them was like me?"
"You know what I mean."
"Having kids be 'like you' would be the best blessing any parent could have. You're like an onion and more, complex layer after complex layer, with a beautiful core. If you mean gay, I couldn't care less. It's 1% of what they would be, same as for you. I don't often envy others, but I do envy you."
"That's not an answer."
"It's the best one."
He put his finger on my lips when I was about to ask for a better explanation. He replaced his finger with his lips. Okay, so the discussion was at an end. He envied me Skip and Billy, unique love. I envied him his 'calm' life. So we were about even.
We watched TV for a while. Around 10:30, he undressed us both down to our boxer briefs. He pulled the sheet and blanket over us and spooned me. I had no bad dreams that night.
In the morning, Jason helped me shower and dress. He took me out for breakfast and then we took the Red Line to downtown DC. I bought a book on some of the highlights of DC that I could send to Jake. He'd then know where he'd like to go once he came one day.
"I'm thinking about moving here," I told Jason. "Billy is talking to Andrew about an internship. I could still work for GE and I could get back to EMS. I started fire fighter training at home. Tough work but I could do it."
"No doubt. Tough work never made you shy. Patricia know yet?"
"She knows I'm restless and that Billy would be the bigger winner here."
Careers mattered when one, like Billy, put his heart and soul into his studies and practical exams. Billy had talked to Skip (and me via phone at the same time) about moving again. Neither of us had any quandaries at all. Andrew had seen Billy's practical exam results and had talked to him over the phone on an impromptu interview. If we made the commitment to move, after Billy finished his Masters at BC, Andrew would get the internship going. But that was a year or so away.
Patricia also knew that my full-time career at GE would come to an end after Billy finished school anyway. I would work half-time or on certain consulting jobs that needed my expertise. Or I could go into training other younger candidates, which was appealing.
At days' end, we went back to Bethesda. Jason helped me settle into my room and finally went home. He called me at bedtime.
"I miss you already. I'll be there after your surgery."
"Love you, bro. A lot. Thanks for our time together."
I watched TV until I was tired, and then slept. I could still smell Jason within the pillow and sheets. I'll take comfort wherever I can. I hope that he really would come AFTER my surgery, like the said. I doubted it. He'd sit outside, but nearby. Yeah I'd do the same for him, so I didn't worry about it.
Abby and Eddie came to visit on Sunday afternoon. Eddie is the senior groundskeeper at the medical center. Remember that he witnessed Mark's and my antics in the leaves back a bit, about 18 months ago.
"Once again, son ... "
"I'm okay Eddie. I missed you and Abby, of course."
"Well, we'll do dinner in a day or so," said Abby. "I'd like your torte recipe but you'll have to show me."
Eddie shook my hand.
"You have heard of a telephone, right? Next time you miss us, call. You should be with Jake."
"Yeah, so I hear. Soon though."
"How about some fresh air. It's nicer today than yesterday."
I was already fully dressed. No telling who would come in and try to covet my Nikes, so I had them on already. I was freshly showered and my tummy was gurgling a bit.
"Sure. I could use a snack on the way out."
He turned his back on me and moved closer to my bed. I climbed aboard and we both held on. He held my legs. Abby laughed. Only thing I can think of is he saw Jason carry me yesterday. Eddie knows my wheelchair is for fooling around in, like doing wheelies, not for transport. I didn't hate it, and would likely be in one full time some day. I also liked that my friends liked my humor and would not establish 'normal' attitudes upon me. Gruff 'old' Eddie carrying me on his back showed he was far from the gruff exterior he seemed to possess. Beneath that exterior was a heart of marshmallow.
We stopped at the cafeteria for milk and a banana. Eddie also bought a muffin to split with me. Abby paid even though I handed her my wallet. She refused it and put it back in my pocket. We went outside. Eddie was right, the weather was just right. He set me in a golf cart. Abby took the other one. We went to the edge of a stream for our little picnic breakfast. I took my sneakers and socks off and dipped my feet into the stream. It was cool but I felt nothing otherwise. My scowl bothered Abby.
"How far does your paralysis reach?" she asked.
"Middle of my back to my toes. Like someone cut off a large part of me."
"What's the plan?"
"Surgery for the tumors that they can reach. Injections will continue on the rest."
"Nine, plus four new ones that can be seen only on MRI."
"Sweet Jesus," said Eddie. "I knew you were a tumor factory, but I didn't know you were in full production. What's it doing up here?" he asked, pointing to his temple.
"Very little. I have little to be scared of. I trust Andrew 100%."
"You're a better man than me. I'd crap my pants."
"Don't assume I don't. But I'm more worried for Jake. And Skip too. It's going to be as hard on him, maybe for a shorter term, than on Jake. And Jake is going to be 200% miserable for months. My research into the procedure told me how Jake would feel. Fevers, flu-like feeling, emotionally beaten up, feeling like he did when his father beat him, tired to end all tired, and distinctly unJake-like."
"The only way out is through, love. You know that better than anyone."
Abby was right. Of course. But 'through' was a very hard journey. Will Jake want to? I didn't, a while ago. Skip knows well how hard he worked to keep me on this side of my life for several weeks.
"When is your first round of surgery?" asked Eddie.
"Wednesday morning. First round will take all day. Been there before."
"The only thing you need to do is think about Jake. Your son needs his Dad for his whole life. Be there for him. No matter what it takes. He's doing the same for you, as is Skip."
I nodded. He was right.
"We'll have dinner when you're mobile again. But that's for later. Your belly growling says you need something more substantial than a banana and half a muffin."
He dialed a phone number.
"Aaron is going off campus for lunch. Want to join us? ... Okay, south entrance."
Eddie obviously called Andrew.
Andrew put me into the front passenger seat. Abby and Andrew settled into the back. They caught up on family news and made a plan for dinner soon. Our lunch place was my favorite DC suburban diner. I ordered a western omelet, wheat toast, and a glass of milk. Yeah, nothing wrong with my appetite. The food at the med center was good, but diner food rules.
Normal life, setting aside the not-so-normal life. A glass of milk with lunch-wish that was my only concern. Bleh. I hated being me sometimes. I was twice removed from my real home, once removed from Matty's home, my son in peril, one of my two best loves willing to make a sacrifice ... like I stepped into an alternate universe. If I click my heels, maybe I can go home. Hell, the only thing that matters is the moments I'm in, and considering where I was and who I was with, I can't complain. I respected Andrew more than anyone else I knew. He'd earned that. Eddie and Abby were top-notch, both with kind and generous hearts. So onward and through.
Wednesday morning found me awake at 5:30 when Andrew came in to be with me before surgery. He was already mostly prepped.
"I knew you'd be awake. Did you sleep at all?"
"Yeah. I woke a half hour ago. I knew you'd be in early."
"I've known you too long. Or we're both too predictable."
"Latter. I'm blessed to know you at all."
Andrew accepted my opinion with quiet dignity. Those two words describe Andrew at his best.
"I hear my ride coming down the hall. Make me better, okay?"
"Aaron I love you dearly. You can bet I'll do my damndest to make you better."
He knew my anxiety was high but I in turn knew he did indeed love me dearly. We had passed the doctor-patient relationship after my first two weeks with him, back in Boston in '93. Nine years, too many surgeries, too much chemo, near-death one time too many, yada yada. However, I live. And thrive. He always made sure my life is forward-looking.
I discovered that Skip could write short notes if Billy holds his hand and guides him along. I got several love notes by mail. I recognized Skip's handwriting immediately. Even if the love notes had been anonymous, they were pure Skip. He loves me. I'm still thrilled at that. I know he's real but that he loves me so much is beyond words.
Skip's thoughts on donating for Jake
I did not over-think my plan to help Jake. I called Andrew for advice. He said bone marrow transplants were effective enough that it was worth the effort. Aaron needed his son. Jake's treatments were too hard. Jake needed his Dad. He would settle for me though. When we talked, he was thankful I would go through so much. He would go through more. My part was easy. I told Jake it could be like walking in Hell. He said it was better than what he was doing.
I called Matt to see if I could stay with him. He was very happy to have me. We had only talked over the phone and in email. I reminded him that I was quadriplegic. He could accept my burden. We made arrangements. Billy drove me to PA on Saturday morning. The four friends met Billy and me in the driveway. Each one knelt down in turn and welcomed me. They hugged Billy too. They knew everything about us. That made me a little scared. Matt carried me inside. He held my hand while he reassured me. We all knew Jake's time was short if this was not done. Jake arrived a while later with Jeff's parents. I had almost forgot what a beautiful young man he is. He smiled when he saw me and Billy. He hugged us both. Billy and I would take care of Jake if anything happened to Aaron. But we did not worry about that.
I called Aaron last. Andrew would not have told him of our conversation. I did not ask for permission. Aaron was afraid for Jake. He would let me do what was right to do. He did not have to like it. Aaron, like me, had done research on how Jake would feel after the transplant. I shared my notes that Billy wrote while we read from a web site. Jake understood what was ahead. He had been prepared by the doctor.
Jake and I were admitted to the hospital in Philly. We shared a room. After this was done, Jake would be isolated. I worried about him being scared of that. We talked it all out. Jake slept beside me the night before. We slept face-to-face. We did not sleep well. We just held hands and talked.
My bone marrow was as good a match as any other. Having a brother or sister would be better, but not by much. I matched at 94%. But Jake's odds were only 50-50 that it would work. The first problem could be graft-vs-host disease. If Jake's body thought my bone marrow was foreign, it would attack it. Jake would die. Or Jake's body could simply reject it. That is like Aaron rejecting Billy's kidney. It would be less likely to kill Jake. But he would need another donor. We would not tell Aaron when we were having the transplant.
Jake's thoughts on his life and Skip
I was surprised that Skip called me on the same day my oncologist and I talked about bone marrow transplant procedures. I listened to what he said. I knew what it would be like for him. I also knew what it would be like for me. I can not turn down Skip's offer. I knew my fate. Even though my Dad did not know about this, I knew he would be okay with it. Not today but after.
Skip and I talked often about this. He wanted me to be 100% okay with it. I was. Daniel and I talked even more. He took some blood tests. His number came as 72% compatible. I did not care. I had Daniel's heart and he had mine. I could not ask for more than that. He was disappointed but I told him love rules, not blood. I did not say that to Skip though. I could not make his gift trivial. It was not. It was a lot. Daniel worked that out. He was also happy with Skip. Who would not be?
When it was time to go, Mom and Pop sat with me in the kitchen. I was nervous. I was not scared. Well, a little. I knew what could happen. I did not think about that. I thought about Skip instead, and then Billy because he gave his kidney to my Dad. That was not easy either. What if Billy needed it? I know Billy did not think about that. Aaron came first or he would die. My Dad's cancer ate Billy's kidney. There was another one later. A young man who fell to his death. He gave my Dad life. My Dad gave me life and now Skip would give me an extension. I lay in our bed in the hospital and held Skip's hands. He could not feel mine very well. I wanted to kiss him but I did not think it was right. Skip kissed me. He was good that way. He knows what someone needs. I could not sleep that night. Tomorrow would be hard. Skip said don't worry about tomorrow. Our moments mattered more.
Skip was wrong about one thing-that I wouldn't know when he and Jake had their procedures. Skip could read me most any time. I could read him only in pain. I don't know when I stopped feeling Skip's pain. I don't know when I started feeling Jake's, but it went on for hours. I was too sad. Two of the three most important guys in my life were doing something very hard. Andy Jr. held me.
"They're okay mate," he said. "It's so good for Skip to give life to Jake."
"I know. But they're in pain."
"Is it worth it?"
I thought about it. At first, I thought 'no'.
"I dunno young lad. Not for me to decide."
But it was not my choice. Billy had been in this place with me. There was no way to refuse his donation for me, even when it was possible it would not work. Bone marrow was not a kidney. That set me on edge. It was more dangerous. Even though donated organs are in short supply, they were still an easier procedure. Skip would wait a few days until Jake's current bone marrow was destroyed. He could not wait at home. He wanted Jake to know he was right there with him. Skip and Jake had both passed the pre-procedure tests. The tests were both physical and psychological. Skip wanted to give and Jake welcomed the gift, so they were okay.
The first pain I felt was when Skip's bone marrow was harvested. He was under general anesthesia. A series of punctures into Skip's hip would extract the thick red liquid into a syringe. Jake would then receive the bone marrow and blood via a standard blood transfusion. The bone marrow (we hoped) would know where to go.
Billy and the BC crew all donated platelets for Jake. His risk was of infection and internal bleeding. The platelets would help his blood clot, helping with at least one half of his medical concerns. All the platelets were used. The boys went back for another round of donations three days later and more blood was sent to Philly. Jake would have everything he needed. He had not met the boys yet. Billy had Jake's picture over his desk, on the wall. He told the boys everything, so they knew that Jake was beaten very badly. They did not immediately know about the adoption of Jake. All were very pleased when they found out though. They would meet Jake soon enough. Their blood preceded their bodily arrival, and made it more special. The bond would be life-long.
It was an advantage for Skip that he could not feel most of his body. He did not need painkillers afterward. All he cared about was that Jake thrived, not just that he survived. He had to wear gloves, masks, and gowns when he visited Jake. This was true for anyone.
The days were awful to endure. How were my guys? I called his room at the hospital. Jeff answered his cell phone. We talked for only a minute. He put the phone beside Jake's ear and told him I was there.
"Hi my Jake. I love you."
"Cool. I l ... "
He went back into his darkness. Jeff held on to him. The darkness could have him only for a while. Jake was mine, by heart, and wanted to be, forever.
This is for Jake and Skip, equally, because they both exhibit what is written here:
Standing for what you believe in regardless of the odds against you, and the pressure that tears at your resistance ... is Courage.
Keeping a smile on your face when inside you feel like dying, for the sake of supporting others ... is Strength.
Stopping at nothing and doing what's in your heart that you know is right ... is Determination.
Doing more than is expected, to make another's life a little more bearable, without uttering a single complaint ... is Compassion.
Helping a friend in need, no matter the time or effort, to the best of your ability ... is Loyalty.
Holding your head high And being the best you know you can be when life seems to fall apart at your feet, Facing each difficulty with the confidence that time will bring you better tomorrows, And never giving up ... is Confidence.
I got it off the Internet years ago, source unknown, and saved it.
Skip knew I was thinking about him. He called me.
"I only gave Jake ... my blood. Don't make me ... a hero. You are Jake's hero ten million ... times more than I can ever be."
"Yes. You saved his ... life and you gave him ... your love. You gave ... him a reason ... to live. And he saved ... you in kind. My blood ... is nothing compared ... to your love ... for Jake. And for Billy and me ... too. It's the best."
"Don't make yourself unimportant. He would have died without you."
"Maybe. I can help him ... survive. It's not ... even 1% of what ... you do. I'm thrilled that you ... love him so purely."
"Of course I do. But-you did more than 1%. But 1% of anything is something. I have loved you from day one, and I'll love you until we're gone."
In my mind, I stroked his face lightly. I would have been looking into his eyes the whole time. I would have kissed my heart-mate softly. This journal is still called "Skip" because Skip is the center of my universe and at the core of my soul. First, he saved me and then he saved my son's life.
"Sweet. Save more for Jake."
"Stop arguing with me. Let me have peace for once."
He didn't say anything. It's not about winning an argument. Skip is a great man. Billy is the better hero of us all because he saved Skip. I love him too, and he knows it. He loves me as much. I don't need more or better or greater. Jake's place in my heart is equal to Skip and Billy's. Even I can't love more than 100%.
Matt and Ginny went to bring Skip home from Philly. Jake could not come home for a few weeks. He was running a high fever the day Skip was to go home. Skip wanted to stay but he was refused by the doctors. Jake had to be alone, for the sake of his life. Skip wanted nothing more than to lie beside Jake and give him strength. Skip broke down on the way home. Matt was in the backseat with Skip. He pulled Skip into his arms and held him while he sobbed, getting the sense of not doing enough out of his system.
"You've done more than anyone for Jake. Please accept that. Jake's gonna live because of you. If you don't believe that, then your donation means very little. It came from the kindest heart I've ever known and will never mean very little. Be happy that Jake is alive. Later you can help him thrive. But not now."
Skip nodded. Matty dried Skip's tears, and then held on to his new friend. Caring for Skip was not like caring for me when I was ill. It required a different mindset and one that excluded pity.
Matty and Ginny, Jeff and Kellie all appreciated what it was like to be Skip. Skip joked that he was good training for taking care of their babies. Matt and Jeff took turns helping Skip shower or bathe, helped him to eat, helped him without embarrassment in the bathroom, and took turns being with him overnight. They were all flexible with their work schedules so that Skip was not alone. Snoopy slept behind Skip every night. Skip felt that Snoopy could tell that Skip was not quite like other people. He would sit on Skip's lap, climbing up carefully. Or he would sniff Skip's legs and arms. He knew how much effort it took his new friend to pat him. Skip worked hard to hold Snoopy and even harder to pet him. Snoopy licked Skip's face as a way to tell him not to worry about attention. He was there for Skip.
The crew knew that Skip wanted to be out of his wheelchair when he did not need to get around. They did what Billy and I did; took him onto the sofa with them and held him from behind, like he was used to. Jeff and Matt took turns visiting Jake in the hospital. Jake's lack of strength bothered them only a little. They knew that Jake would be better each day. Skip's life force was flowing inside of him. Jake said he could not ask for better than that. But he made sure Jeff and Matt both knew that he loved having them close by. The synchronized dance between caring for Skip and then caring for Jake was like the finest choreographed dance anyone had ever witnessed. It was flawless. It was not done with thought, only with great care and love.
Jake would be with Matt at home for four months. Jake had a mission-to be back at school on time for Fall semester. Everyone would help that happen. Daniel was never far from Jake. He took a leave from work, unpaid, to be with Jake. He had been delayed because of traveling, but he was now home for the summer. Home was Matt's place. What Jake did not know was that Matt and Ginny delayed their wedding plans that summer. He would find out later and feel very embarrassed at that. Both assured him that Jake's well-being was more important. Jake finally accepted it.
As I was saying before, on a Wednesday, somewhere amongst all of this, I was wheeled into surgery at 6:30 a.m. My own army of caregivers was there to make me well, hopefully once and for all. Skip, Jake, and I needed to be at home. Billy was in school, so he was busy. I missed my bud. He knew, and he called me too. We needed to be together, carrying on with our lives, working and playing, together.
When I woke up, Billy was lying beside me. I obviously woke up fully after he kissed me. I asked my first usual question.
"What time and day is it?"
Not "Hi I love you and I missed you." Billy understood that. I needed to be oriented in time. He started feeding me ice chips. He knew the routine. He kissed my lips softly before he gave me more ice.
"Tuesday morning, not quite 7:00. Six days. Before you ask, I brought my books and notes with me. Finals are in two weeks. Now no giving me a hard time."
"Can't. I love that you're here. When did you come?"
"Uh ... "
"Wise ass. Not that come. When did you arrive?"
"Sunday afternoon. I stopped in Philly to see Skip and Jake."
"I know Skip's okay. How ... "
"Struggling badly. He's on oxygen."
Billy wouldn't soft peddle how it really was.
"You told him you love him." Not a question.
"Yeah but more important, that you do. You and Daniel need to be the center of Jake's world right now. Skip too because he's Jake's physical lifeline. I'm on the fringe. He knew who I was. I wouldn't want to be Jake right now though. It's bad."
"I know. Will you have time to stop when you go back?"
"No worries, love. We can't call him. Everything has to be sterile, so no phone. Skip isn't going anywhere until Jake can walk out of the hospital on his own."
More ice. My throat was raw. Six days. Pain management was still a mystery to me. Being filleted open like a fish was why they kept me medicated. I have to wonder if they installed a zipper for future access. I started to take inventory of what I could feel. Billy-check. Okay, end of inventory. Billy was more than enough to feel right now. He touched my cheek. He looked only at my eyes. He gave me the unique smile that was his alone. He also gave me sad eyes because he knew I was hurting-and not from my surgery.
"He'll be okay love. Skip, Daniel, and The Four are all there so he's not alone. He sleeps a lot. That's good, same as for you. Nothing to do and it's too early to take you out and about. Do you want to be alone?"
"Alrighty then. Sleep Sweet Prince. I'll wake you when lunch comes around."
Lunch would not be solid food yet. Broth or applesauce, maybe some juice. And an IV supplement. Sigh. Still, I had nothing to complain about. Jake wasn't getting a seven-course meal either.
I closed my eyes but didn't sleep. I figured Billy would get up and go for a walk or something. He carefully wrapped me up in his arms instead. Duh-for myself this time. And there was a 1 in 10,000 chance that Billy would actually do any homework while he was here.
I had a lot of questions about myself but they'd have to wait. Donna came in to check on me. She brought juice for me and Billy, plus a banana for him. He gave me very small pieces-two for him and one for me. So selfish, my Billy. Skip too, just brutally selfish. Yeah yeah, I'm kidding. If I held a gun to their heads, they could not spell selfish, never mind trying to be. I'm selfish because they are MINE! S-e-l-f-i-s-h, and no gun pointed at my head. As flaws of personality go, that one was 4 on a 1 to 10 scale. They forgive me my flaw(s).
My dressing needed to be changed. I looked at Billy.
"Not for your eyes, love. Can you give us 10 minutes?"
"Nope, not even one. I want to be a medical person in some variety some day. Squeamish doesn't cut it."
Sigh. My mind flashed back to Skip's horrible scars along his spinal column almost two years ago. Billy had never seen that. I know mine wasn't as bad but still ...
"No arguing with your best bud," said Donna. "Billy, you can help me roll him over, preferably head to toe in one move."
Billy used my sheet to pull me to his side of the bed. Donna rolled me at my hips as Billy rolled the rest of me in one easy motion. I do not wear the standard hospital gown. Hate those-they are so uncomfortable and always in the way. Billy slid my large t-shirt, which even covered my butt, up to my neck. Donna showed him how to release the adhesive on my bandages without pulling at my skin. She dabbed one side with very warm water and then Billy did the same on my right side. Working from bottom up, they peeled me like a grape.
"Whoa!" said Billy. "Pus or infection?"
"Neither. There's no odor, right?"
I imagined that he nodded.
"It's just drainage from the wound. Odors we worry about. No sign of infection. The drainage will be clear by the end of the week. He's fine."
"Hello! I'm in the room."
"Sorry love. Donna is right. You're fine. And you're very fine and mine."
Okay so I might have to take back my 'not selfish' comment.
Billy washed my back with a warm washcloth.
"Let's let the wound breathe for a few minutes."
"Okay. I'll finish washing him," said Billy.
Donna left. Billy leaned down to kiss the back of my neck.
"Is it ugly love?"
"Yeah, but it'll heal. Just one more wound in the landscape of Aaron. I love you no matter how hard your life is."
"I've tested your patience for so long."
"Well, yeah, but it's infinite. You saw me at my worst. So traumatic it must have been on you."
I thought back to Billy going down, his eyes rolling up into his head, and blood from his ear. I remember him not even knowing me, though we loved so deeply. It took hard work to bring me back to his heart. He'll never let me go. We loved each other unconditionally.
"Worse that you didn't know me after."
"I know. It was nothing I could control, but I'm sorry anyway. You really will always be my Aaron. I'm going to care for you always."
He washed me head to toe. I felt his hand test the landscape below my waist. He was as curious as I was. He didn't tell me he was doing it in case I felt nothing. I shook my head.
"S'okay love. That's not what I love you for anyway."
'Yeah, but it's nice though,' I finished in my own mind.
Truly making love with my two was only 1% of us. But 99% isn't complete.
I looked up at him as best I could. He was looking at me, smiling. He kissed my lips and looked into my eyes again.
"It's your heart I want Aaron. If I have that, I really am complete. You need to heal. Jake needs you more than you can possibly know.
Comments: ajlangille [at] gmail [dot] com