Skip - Part 66
As good as our lives were, I still had the enemy of my lifetime living inside of me. As soon as Skip had told me he felt two new tumors, I called Andrew. He had a new formula he wanted to try. He arranged to meet me in New York City.
When I arrived at East 68th Street, give or take a half block, friend Jason was sitting in the lobby with Andrew.
"Just came to check on 'my' other kidney. And I missed you, of course."
He gave me a grand hug to show he was sincere. He added a kiss on my forehead. He pulled back, holding me at arm's length, looking a little sad.
"No worries bro. Andrew knows how to take care of the tumor factory. Only two tumors. Mere child's play."
"Not. It still sucks to see you making tumors. Keep it away from my kidney or I'll repossess it."
I wouldn't blame him if he did. Me being well was the only condition imposed on his sacrifice. Jason took my hand as we rode the elevator upstairs. He flinched a moment when Andrew put a needle into each tumor. I didn't watch, as usual. I looked into Jason's eyes and he looked into mine. He kissed my forehead again. I reached up and wiped a tear off his cheek before it fell too far.
Jason knew that 'mere child's play' was my equivalent to 'no worries, I'm good.'
"Yeah, I know, but I've known you too long to think about you not being around."
"You can use the grown-up word," I said.
"I hate the grown-up word." He looked into my eyes. "To think about you dying."
"Then think of me living instead."
"I think of both. Any one bad thing happening to you is wrenching enough. Losing Kate and your child, three kidney transplants, tumors too numerous to count any more. Who would want to survive all that?"
"You tell me. You already know the answer. It's in the back of your mind. Bring it forward, and keep it there."
He thought for a few minutes. Andrew touched my cheek. He knew the answer. It helped him do what he does best.
"If we don't know bad, we can't know good," said Jason.
I gave him a kiss on his cheek. "Yes."
"Moderation would be better for you, and on the nerves of those you love."
"It's not a bad thing to struggle and survive, or even struggle and die. It's hell to not struggle and die unfinished. Existing doesn't cut it."
"Okay Mr. Frost. Take the road less traveled, all those miles of it, and then sleep."
"You're showing your humanity," Andrew said to Jason, a bit of a smile on his face.
"Yeah well, you know how it is. Aaron's life is YOUR humanity shining brightly."
"Profound and true," I said. I pulled Jason to me and kissed his neck.
He loved that. Jason first did that to me long ago. We were in college. My mom called and said that a car had hit Ginger, my pet beagle, that afternoon. I was in tears, sitting at the end of the hallway at the pay phone in our dorm. Jason came in after his last class. He almost tripped over me. He sat beside me and waited for me to talk. When I told him, he pulled me to him and kissed my neck. He took me back to our room. He stood me in front of my desk and pointed to the photo of me on my knees beside Ginger.
"Remember her this way, mate. No one lives forever, except in our memories."
He stood behind me, both arms around me, holding me in place so I wouldn't move away from the picture. I do remember my little beagle that way.
We had over a thousand acres to play on. Ginger and I were always running around the pastures. I have no idea why, but she loved running across the state highway. In the end, it was her undoing. Mom said the neighbor who hit her carried her from his car to the backyard. He laid her to rest. He came back later in the day and planted a small evergreen as her grave marker.
This is also why I love Matt's little Snoopy so much. He's beagle, and bold. Ginger incarnate, at least in attitude.
Life went on, as it does no matter what. The news of the day here was of a sniper in the DC area.
Claire tried always to be home when Louisa and Andy Jr. got off the school bus. She got held up at her office one afternoon. I was nearby and told her I'd go home to be there for the kids. The whole area was just a mess, emotions running high, everyone being as cautious as possible. Even then people dropped like flies as the sniper continued to stir up the madness. I put my arms around Louisa and Andy's shoulders as we walked from the community entrance to home. They ran upstairs as usual, changing out of their school clothes for jeans. Louisa came downstairs to help me with dinner.
I realized sometime later that Andy hadn't come down from his room. I walked to the den and living room, not finding him, nor in the downstairs half bath. I went upstairs to make sure he was okay. He hadn't talked much on the way home. I found him sitting on the floor at the foot of his bed, facing the wall.
"Okay Young Lad?"
He shook his head but didn't speak. I knelt down behind him. I turned his head to me. His cheeks were both wet with tears. I turned him toward me and hugged him tightly."
"What's the matter, love?"
He pushed a newspaper under his bed on the sly, but I saw it. I left it alone for a moment, seeing if he'd trust me. He sobbed hard, holding on to me like he was afraid someone was about to snatch him away from me. I held his head to my chest and waited.
He pulled the newspaper from under his bed. He crushed it in one hand.
"Not safe, Aaron. Not safe. Me and Louie."
"Show me, love."
He gave me the newspaper. The headline was enough to chill my blood, never mind that of a 12 year old. My God.
"Your children are not safe, anywhere, at any time".
Words from the shooter(s). I folded up the first section of the newspaper. It would be meaningless to tell young Andy that his fears were unfounded. Of course they weren't. He was scared and had a right to be.
"I understand Young Lad."
"Stupid. I'm sorry Aaron."
"You're not stupid, Andy. You're scared. For good reason. So are a lot of people. We don't know when or where. Just don't let it paralyze you. When you're at school ... "
"I'm not going to school."
A 13 year old had been shot in the stomach as he went to his middle school, out in Bowie, Maryland. It was a good distance from us, but too close to home.
"Okay love. I'll stay home with you. Louie too if she doesn't want to go to school."
"I do," she said from the door. "I'm not hiding. I'll be okay."
"You don't know that Louie," Andy said sadly, with great conviction.
Louisa sat with us. She ruffled Andy's hair. Andy and Louisa were very close. No sibling rivalry existed between them, now or ever. I imagine that Claire and Andrew taught them to be respectful of others, and of each other. Andy was a young gentlemen, very bright, athletic, competitive but not overboard, and very loving. He reached for Louisa's hand. She took it. He put his other hand in mine. I held on.
"Will you really stay here, Aaron?"
"Yes Young Lad. You'll have to keep up with school work though."
"Come downstairs?" asked Louisa gently. "We need help with dinner."
In the kitchen, Andy stayed clear of the windows. I dropped the blinds part way near the breakfast table. The community was gated and secure, except in the mind of a young boy. Someone wants to get on to the property, they'll find a way. It's a local security agency, keeping residents safe, not the military. Even then ...
Andy was very clingy the rest of the afternoon. Mum knew something was up the moment she saw him. We waited for Andrew and then talked about it over dinner. As one would expect, neither parent told Andy he was wrong to be fearful. They were okay that Andy didn't want to go to school. Louisa was going on as usual. She was right-none of the victims had been teens or younger. The shooter(s) was doing a good job of terrorizing Maryland, Virginia, and the District. I'm sure other kids saw the news, and were wary about normal life for now. Me too. I'm not above being scared. The folks were happy with news that I'd stay home with Andy. Even when this was over, I was one of many who would continue to be aware of my environment and look over my shoulder.
At bedtime, while Andy took his shower, I turned down both beds in his room. I went back downstairs for a while. Andy joined us for some warm milk. I had tea and a slice of pie that I had passed on earlier. I got a second fork from the drawer and put my pie closer to Andy. He hadn't had much dinner and only a bite of the pie. I encouraged him to have more. He shook his head.
Dad and Mum took the kids upstairs and tucked them in. I showered in the meantime. Andy was lying on his back with his hands behind his head when I came in. He was staring blankly at the ceiling. My heart ached for him.
"Sorry Mate," he said to me, needing to apologize for me sleeping in his room, even though he hadn't asked me to.
"I love you Andy. Whatever makes you feel better, I'll do."
He rolled over onto his side, both hands under his head. I kissed his cheek. He looked at me with the saddest eyes I have seen, ever. I brushed his hair off his forehead and stayed beside him.
"I love you Mate. Thank you."
"You're not alone, Young Lad. Sleep, okay?"
He tried, and failed. It took him over two hours to finally fall asleep. I had no need to sleep until he did. Mum stood in the doorway after her bath. Andrew made sure the kids were okay before he went to bed. Louisa apparently had gone to sleep right away. There were no guarantees about her peace of mind though. Louisa was strong-willed. But she also had seen the news in the paper and on television.
Andy, and therefore me, slept the rest of the night. Claire and Andrew left us until breakfast was ready. They looked to see if Andy had changed his mind about going to school. He had not. I decided that he needed something to be normal, so I asked him to write down what his class schedule was. I played teacher until lunchtime, made lunch with his help, and then carried on until 'school let out'. He remained morose, though he did his usual reading and lab exercise. We even imitated his computer lab, staying away from news sites. No TV either. Music played all day. We went to the bus to meet Louisa. Other parents in the neighborhood were home at the end of the school day, escorting sons and daughters to and from the bus. Claire shortened her afternoon specifically to be there.
Before it was all over, ten people had lost their lives. Three of the shootings had been a mere few miles from home. The young teenager had survived. I can't imagine how it would be to be so young and shot by a pair of maniacs. The physical scars would be there forever. The first gunman was executed six years later by lethal injection. American justice sucks. He should have known the terror that he had inflicted by facing the same gun he had used to kill. Nine bullets for nine men and women who died. The last one to blow his fucking brains out, for the tenth person. A needle prick and going to sleep is not good enough and never, ever, will be. It's easy to be so enraged when you hold on to a young man who was scared and shivering in your arms, afraid to live and to sleep at night. Andy was as scarred as the teen who was actually shot. It was a trip through hell for Andy. Even when the killers were caught, he looked for a copycat who could do the same. Andy was not Andy for far too long. This was the young man who had been there when I had awaken from surgeries, who fed me ice chips, who loved me with hugs and sweet kisses. All I could give him was my hand to hold. Not good enough.
Skip and Billy held me close when I had returned from DC. I was distracted for a few days after. Young Andy occupied 98% of my thoughts.
Skip asked me to look up a quote for 'fear' and to put it in my journals. He then expected Billy and me to live by it. This one was the best of a lot of good ones:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
If you're into science fiction, you'll know the name Frank Herbert. One of his famous works is "Dune" (and the sequels, tedious to read but still a good one, as was the movie).
Skip says this will see us through most any tough time. He also reminded us to look only forward. I mostly agree, but I've said, on a couple of occasions, that if I don't know where I've been, I won't know where I'm going. I don't want history to repeat itself, but I do want to learn from it.
"What are you most afraid of love?" I asked him.
"Your guilt," he said, hardly missing a beat.
"I guess that's fair. You do know I'm not going to leave you ever. You know I'll take good care of you. We'll have many to love together. When it's just you and me, we'll hold each other. I don't fear that Jake will die anymore. I know he and Daniel take extra good care of each other. So yeah, the only thing left to be afraid of is my guilt. It goes back to Kate's death. Why me? Why did I survive, but she didn't. I managed to shove it to the back of my mind, and fold it on itself. I can't do that for you. Not yet anyway."
"Please try. For me."
I nodded. I lay him on the sofa and lay behind him. I had to go to the fire station soon, but a quiet few minutes was one of the better things I could give my mates. Billy had finished loading the dishwasher. He sat on the floor in front of the sofa. He gave Skip a kiss, and then gave me one that could easily make me late for work.
"Stop that!" I protested only mildly. "Showing up at the fire station with a boner in my slacks will make tongues wag. But, uh, hold that thought for a later time."
Billy teased me more by slowly undressing Skip. Then he took off his jeans and t-shirt, which is all he was wearing. He looked at his watch.
"It's a later time," he said.
"Yeah, but not later enough. Sigh. Why do you do that to me?"
"I lust you."
I raised an eyebrow.
"Hey, I'm not proud. I love you way more, but I still have lust in my heart."
"It's not your heart that's distracting me."
I climbed out from behind Skip very quickly. I took my jacket from the coat closet and practically ran to work. Billy, not being one to waste a boner would make sweet love to Skip. I would have to wait until the weekend for his sweet love and the lusty boner. Sigh.
Skip's exercise routine was a twice daily event. It would be unkind to say 'routine'. Skip had a very specific need, and there was nothing routine about it. We couldn't make him walk again, but we could keep muscle atrophy at bay and keep blood flow going strong.
skip: on a weekday, fred does my morning pt. i spent a minimum amount of time telling him what i needed. from there, he patiently started with my head and neck, working down to my legs and feet. i think he had aaron's philosophy-treat the 'patient' the way you'd want to be treated. it was a routine, but fred never made me feel it was tedious. billy did my evening pt. half the time it turned us both on and we'd make sweet love after he made sure he did it all right. billy did it right, of course. aaron and billy took turns with my morning and evening sessions on the weekends. often, both would take turns with upper and lower body therapy. aaron said i had to be naked. he wanted to see my muscles paying attention to his touch. well, that's his story anyway. a big lie, but he lied boldly. he did put his heart into it, and he did give me a good workout. and then he gave me a good workout.
even then, his eyes told the story. he hated that we had to do physical therapy. he always looked into my eyes as he worked on me. his eyes always said 'i'm sorry'.
"let it go a."
"trying, love. i really am."
he shrugged. he did what was right to do, for me. but he hated it, at the core. fred, billy, and aaron had three distinct views of my therapy. fred knew it made me healthy. he knew it was necessary. billy also knew it was necessary, but it was also a time for us to be together as brothers and mates. it was also playtime. when aaron worked with me, i let him have a good look inside of me. i looked back into him. we saw two very different things.
I wish I could be more like Billy, using Skip's therapy as foreplay. It would be more interesting. It would take the guilt away. I didn't want the guilt. However, pushing it away would be like pushing Skip away. It was not the therapy, but the reason _why_ the therapy was a part of his life twice a day, every day. It was more than 'wrong place, wrong time.' Kate had been killed while we lived in Connecticut. I moved out of Connecticut after my release from the hospital, nearly two years later. Connecticut was not home any more without her. Accepting Patricia's offer to move back seemed like a good thing. It was, for a long time. If we'd stayed in Boston, Skip and Billy wouldn't have been in the path of a runaway bus.
"You don't know that, love," Billy said. "There are hundreds of ways to get hurt no matter where we are. You forget that we were in Cambridge when I lost you for a while. Cars, trains, subways, busses, planes, bikes, skates, skis ... "
"People bent on hurting ... other people. Terrorists ... for one, including ... the sniper. Drunks for ... another. You know that ... to well. More reasons ... than we can think about. Reasons ... to make us stay ... home all the ... time. But we can't."
"You know that, more than others, because you're a paramedic." Billy's voice of reason was strong, and sensible.
"A? Hold me, like you love me ... not like you ... pity me."
"I've always held you like I love you. Because I do. Don't doubt the depth of that."
"Never did. Never ... could."
"You've spent enough time with the guilt, love," said Billy. "Get over it."
He said it more harshly than he intended. Probably. Great words though. Honest words. Neither one blamed me. I wanted them to love me despite my perceived failures.
"I repeat. Hold me A."
I did better than that. I held both brothers. We kissed. They held me back, like they loved me too. Billy's best feature, by far, was his eyes. Skip's best was his soul, which I could see at every turn. They were right, of course. Two against one. Game over.
I did change my ways after that. I looked at Skip only as a man whom I loved and who loved me back no matter what. I was away from him 18 hours a day. When I was back at home, finally, he wanted me to hold him, to feed him his meals, to carry him outside, and to play like we were 12 all over again. I was friend. I was brother. I was lover. And best of all, by far, I was his heart mate. I was also Billy's friend, brother, lover, and heart mate. We were 1% lust and 99% bestest buds.
skip: billy is low-key. people who see him at first glance would think he has no heart. he has a beautiful heart, the breadth and width i have seen nearly every hour of every day. in one word, an iceberg. there is much more to him than anyone can see.
aaron is an onion. he has layers of complexity that are worth peeling back to expose. one does not have to get to the core to see him though. his love, his heart for people, his heart for me and billy, and only sometimes his sadness are in each layer. aaron and me together are 'beautiful', in physical looks and in what people see of us together. too many people have said that for it to be lame and false. one of my many many fine moments with aaron is when we danced on one very otherwise ordinary night in atlanta. words can't ever describe how moving that was. teaching my pt guy mark to dance with us took it over the moon.
I have to admit that good things did come out of Skip's spinal injury. Atlanta was the best. We kept in touch at least weekly with all the beautiful hearts there. Even Dylan and David loved to make gibberish with us on the telephone. We asked for pics of the twins. We were proud uncles of the little guys.
One of my GE patents came from Atlanta, which floored Patricia when she heard about it. Mike, my manager in Atlanta (and dad to the twins) had submitted it to the committee. Later, months later, she told me she really shouldn't have been surprised. But she also thought that 99% of my attention had been on Skip. It was. Everything else fell into the 1%. I love our 1%. It's magical. Better yet, it defines three lovers in love.
Skip was lying in front of me on the sofa. I turned his head so he could see me. The way he said my name told me he wanted to talk. I turned all of him around.
"I thought you were napping," I said to him.
"No. I'd rather ... look at you."
"Not much to see."
"A lot to see. You're ... my Aaron. You might ... have faults, but they're ... not what define you. I have faults too. Would you want me ... perfect?"
"I don't see faults. I see you loving me, which is faulty enough."
He laughed aloud. He kissed my forehead. I put his hand on my cheek after kissing the palm.
"I have to remember ... what that feels ... like."
"You can't feel it?"
"I'm sorry. Is the memory good enough?"
"Yeah. Seeing you do it is ... as good as ... feeling it."
"You're a romantic."
"I can't imagine my life ... without you. You never hurt me ... intentionally or ... otherwise. You're harder on ... yourself than anyone could be."
"Because of me, you almost died."
"Because of you I ... live a ... beautiful life."
"Come on ... "
"Sshhhh. I wouldn't ... trade one moment ... of my life with you ... for a moment ... without you."
"Am I the most ut?"
He laughed aloud again. "My Aaron, the ... most ut. And more. Way more."
"How do you stand it, seriously?"
Alright alright, so he'd tell me "the moments I'm in." I know, and of course I agree. Aaron at 16 was far more confident than now. I see Skip as trapped. The hardest he works in any day is to reach out and hug Billy or me. I hug him with little thought, while his takes every thought times twenty.
"When I was healing from my accident, all I had was being pissed off to get me through every day. Pissed off that I couldn't protect Kate, pissed off at the guy who hit us, pissed off that I lived. If I could have done myself in, I would have."
He looked at me. He didn't say anything. I couldn't read him like he could read me. Even as much as I loved him, I couldn't read him. He considers it both a blessing and a curse that he can read me. If I want to know what he's thinking, all I need to do is ask. There are no secrets between us, nor with Billy either.
"I'm glad you ... couldn't do yourself in. I'd have ... Billy, but we'd both be ... incomplete. You make ... us whole."
How does someone like me answer that? Words would be lame. I put my head beside his and stayed quiet. He knew what he needed to know. I was here now and would be with him until time swallowed us whole. I can't fathom 'beyond time and space'. As good as he is, neither can Skip. The moments count most, whenever we are in them.
These are 'morning moments'. Skip gave them that name. Billy and/or I get Skip up when he's ready, which is about as soon as he wakes up. A restless soul in a quadriplegic's body. Gotta move. Gotta make moments. Gonna make 'em count. I'm moving forward, so come with me.
This time, Billy sat and watched as I took care of Skip. I set him on the bench in our spa-style shower, made with great care as a gift from dad to son. And sons, though Skip first. I use the shower spray to wet his hair and then add shampoo (because we're out of real poo-BJ Hunnicut on M*A*S*H long ago). I work up a good lather and then let it be. His whiskers are soft enough now so I don't risk cutting him. I use shaving soap on a brush, picturing the old time Victorian days. The shaving cream is Victorian, but the razor is modern day. I start low on his neck and shave up to his chin. I have to hold his head up with a gentle hand. He needs the strength in his neck to navigate in his wheelchair. I've never cut him while shaving him. I've often wished that he ...
"Why wish for ... something you ... cannot have?" he would say. It was not a question to be answered. It was an end to my self-inflicted sadness. Gotta move. Gotta make moments. Gonna make 'em count. I'm moving forward, so come with me.
I would shave his neck a second time, downward. Under his nose, kissing his nose as I looked into his eyes. Beautiful eyes. Don't-be-sad-for-me eyes. Each cheek, upward and downward so he'd be whisker free for a couple days. Shaving him every day wasn't necessary. I kidded him about peach fuzz instead of manly whiskers. Billy shaved less often than Skip. Me? Every day; sometimes twice a day if we were going out in the evening. Once he was clean shaven, I'd wash his face with Dove soap, so his skin wouldn't dry out.
Then it was time to finish washing his hair. I held my hand above his eyes, tilted down so I wouldn't get shampoo in his eyes. His hair was thick, wonderful to run my fingers through. Mine was cut close to my head so it wouldn't grow out all curly. You can often tell a person who has fought cancer and won. They are either bald or have tight curly hair. Unlike shaving, Skip and Billy needed a three-week haircut. I went almost eight full weeks between trimmings.
Billy handed me a toothbrush, with just the right amount of toothpaste. This is one thing that had taken me a long while to get used to. Brushing Skip's teeth took concentrated thought so that I'd do a good job. Billy often would brush Skip's teeth sitting behind him, so it felt a little more natural. That reminded me, I needed to check the calendar for our next checkups. I'd already made a long list of new things we'd need once we moved. Family doctor, dentist, barber, where to buy fresh fish and meat, where the farmer's market was, where to pick seasonal fruits at orchards, and how to remold our lives to fit into a city again.
Next, full-body wash-up, from the neck down. I'd wash him the same way in the shower as I would in the bathtub. I even checked his testicle routinely to make sure there was no recurrence of the terrible cancer that took his other one and half a lung. If I forgot, he'd remind me.
Once done, I would point the shower head away, take a big thirsty towel from Billy, put it around Skip, and then hand him to Billy, who would towel him dry. I would then take my turn in the shower. I'd take over from Billy after that so he could shower. I brushed or combed his hair, depending on how unruly it was. When I was done, if I done good, he'd kiss my forehead and tell me he loved me so much.
"You take the ... best care ... of me. It's hard. But ... that's okay ... too. You love me, so ... I'm not broken."
That he loved me so much was more than I could hope for. When he tells me, he holds eye contact. He can't hug me, as Billy does, always, when he tells me he loves me. I hug Skip instead, often caressing his cheek with my fingertips, or my palm against his cheek. Or honor him by keeping eye contact. Love this profound can't be just words. Many people have told me that my pain shows in my eyes. Skip says his life is in my eyes. That three love so much was just beyond any wish I'd ever whispered.
A bath in the tub was usually done only at the end of a long day when Skip was stressed a bit. Like in our townhomes in New Hampshire, there would be three white roses in a small crystal vase sitting beside three white candles. A bath was a time to relax, to soak awhile, maybe to play if he wanted to, or just stay quiet and listen to our songsters and songstresses lull us into a peaceful place.
I found this quote recently (in 2011 real time vs. 2002 journal time).
"The story of love is not important, what is important is that one is capable of love. It is perhaps the only glimpse we are permitted of eternity." - Helen Hayes, movie and theatrical actress
It makes me think about our beginnings, and our future.
"Do I drive you nuts?"
The question came out of the blue, me to Skip.
"My tolerance for ... being driven ... nuts is quite high."
"I drive me nuts. My brain won't shut down at bedtime. It's on an endless loop of examining the past, now, and future."
"You do yourself an ... injustice. Aaron at 16 ... was brilliant. Can't ... you heed your ... own advice?"
"I dunno. I thought I could because everyone around me loves my words. They were going forward words, back then, when I put them into a sensible mantra. I'm not scared of much. Not even dying."
"You're one up on ... most anyone else. I'm not afraid ... either. Of anything except not living ... up to my potential."
"What will you do when we move again?"
"Take on the job ... that you started. I know it's ... on your mind ... a lot. You hate hate. You see bullies and ... want to throttle them. One more ... source of guilt was ... not protecting Billy ... that day in Cambridge. You can't ... stand injustice, or ... stupidity. Everyone ... is equal, or ... should be."
He was right about Billy. We were just holding hands. He paid the higher cost of that than I did, 'cept that I lost him for a while. Or he lost me, more accurately.
"You'll count on me to help with that? To help someone understand?"
"Yeah. I have ideas. We ... need to get them ... on paper."
If one understands, you can make another one understand. It should be like dominos, except standing up instead of falling down.
And so we began. This was the genesis of Skip's tours throughout the US. He wanted to visit Canadian provinces as well. Bullying was not just an American problem.
He thought for a few moments as I grabbed a tablet of paper. I wrote while he spoke."
"High schools. Juniors and seniors ... because they ... should be mature ... enough to handle adult ... discussions."
"Okay." I wrote it down.
"College students. All ages. Some are ... finding their way or ... they're part way decided. They should ... enforce it for ... others around them too."
"Hmmm. Nice. That part I'd considered. Hearing you say it is validation."
I made more notes as Skip talked. He'd obviously been thinking about this for a while. A lot of distractions had come and gone, and now he was focused. I looked up to see that he was staring at me.
"As in not linear."
"It still amazes me how you can."
"Not so ... amazing."
"Why do you do ... that?"
"I don't doubt it. It's just ... "
"Don't say impossible. It's ... not. I love you, Aaron. More every day."
I leaned in and kissed him softly.
"I'm amazed, maybe awed, but you really make my heart soar. I used to think that was dumb."
"You. Billy. BC boys. Jake and Daniel. The Pennsylvania crew of four. Um, five. Snoopy included."
"Sometimes too many to count. That in itself is a blessing."
"You have a special love ... for all of us."
"As equally as I can. No one is less important than anyone else. We've shared good and bad."
"But you're scared."
"Yeah. Only sometimes."
I wrapped my arms around him. I lay him down, facing me on the sofa. I watched his eyes the way other people watch beautiful sunsets. I hear him like people who listen to gorgeous symphonies. I felt him like a newborn baby feels (and knows, somehow) that he or she is cherished.
"It's enough that ... you wake up every ... morning, still in ... love with Billy and me."
He kissed me. He smiled at me. "My special Aaron. Sometimes ... I'm overwhelmed ... by you. Every day ... is better than the last one. We have ... earned the right to ... love. To be happy."
I didn't need to be told every day, by Skip or by Billy, that they loved me. Nice to hear, of course. We didn't fight about anything. Sometimes I wondered if I was giving enough to Skip. I wondered if Billy felt slighted.
"He doesn't. He loves ... you and me 100%. He ... feels like you do, about me. We just ... talk it out. He got hurt too. Twice, really."
"I ... "
"Stop. Billy's okay."
I nodded. I knew he was. The moment he said "Where's my Aaron" toward the end of his rehab, he became Billy 2.0. Like Skip, forward looking. As for me, I'm still in beta test mode. Aaron 22.214.171.124. Lots of room for improvement. Most of the time I was walking forward but watching my rear. There was so much back there, close by and far away. Ghosts, but not of people. Of events.
Life was good though. I needed to be reminded sometimes. Life wasn't bad. Life was different. It had its moments. Some were better than others. Sometimes good came from the 'different'. Billy got hurt because we held hands. Why is how I love him different than if I had been holding Kate's hand on the street in Cambridge? It makes no sense. Sane people say that love is not gender. Even Fiona Givens, not an American by birth, older, in the generation where gay was not as accepted, but totally loving and so wonderful to be around. So why? Only one answer to that-ignorance. Skip was going on a mission to make the ignorance go away. Or at the very worst, to lessen it. To make people think twice about the people around them.
Skip is a man wrapped around his two best loves wrapped around brilliance wrapped around three souls wrapped around three hearts. If he suffers, he does so in silence. No complaining, no whining, just a grand effort to his every moment. He can't see what's in his past. I'm still learning from him, every day.
I did have to listen though, to what he and Billy said, and even to what I said, even if it was long past. The moments we're in. To be thought about daily, hourly, or by the minute, whatever brings forward steps. Baby steps are allowed. So is falling on one's ass. Nothing wrong with crawling for a while either. Just forward, no matter what.
November 2002. We began thinking about holidays and where we'd spend them. Being in New Hampshire would be nice. Jake and Daniel with us would be even better. They had many choices. Stay with Jeff's mom and pop and have a large Thanksgiving feast with the whole family, which included Jeff, Kelly, and baby Jordan. Or go to Daniel's folks. Or Matt's folks house with a very large family. Jake and Daniel had met most of Matt's siblings. They were two more brothers as far as the family was concerned. That made for a family of 10 boys and 1 girl. They could even make the most of it with just the two of them. They really didn't know yet what they'd like to do most. Skip, ever attuned to feelings, said how about some of each. Thanksgiving Day with Daniel's folks. Friday and some Black Friday shopping with Jeff & Kelly. Saturday with Matt's family for a load of leftovers. Sunday back at home, just the two. They talked it over between themselves and then with the rest of the families. Skip's idea prevailed, and the boys sang his praises. Skip is also the type to buy one of everything if he can't decide on color-be it towels or shirts. Why struggle?
Christmas planning was easier. The boys wanted to go to spend Christmas similar to their Thanksgiving, making the rounds to see those they loved. Two surprise guests would also join us, but I withheld that information from everyone except our hosts. We called Margie, Joan and Walt, and Aggie and Malcolm. Those were our three favorite inns and five favorite hosts.
In the meantime, we planned a pre-holiday season with all of the BC boys. We had missed out on the summer fling at Lake Winnisquam, and we were missing most of our beautiful mates quite badly. If we couldn't all be together at once, we would manage. But the guys were easy in their decisions. All of them said 'pick a date and we'll be there'. We offered up the first weekend in November.
On the first weekend in November, sixteen of our closest (and dearest forever) friends arrived at our door. The condo went from nicely quiet to nicely noisy and awesome over the course of two hours. Sleeping bags were put in a corner of the living room, creatively, in the shape of a Christmas tree. Small wonder why we loved them all. They would decide at bedtime where they wanted to sleep.
We all gathered around in the kitchen to deal with the large quantities of food that had arrived with these guys. Thankfully there were ice chests because it didn't take long for the fridge to be packed full. I poured remnants of ice and water into the sink. Billy and Ste made a run for more ice.
Skip was sitting on a counter stool with the twins on either side of him. He didn't necessarily crave attention, but when offered, he never refused. He was trying to figure out who was Jake and who was Jeremy. He couldn't tell. Billy said that the rest of the guys stopped trying after the first two weeks of their first semester together. Kenny never knew for sure if he was rooming with Jake. Paul was often convinced that he had the wool pulled over his eyes several times a month. The boys occasionally pranked in class, swapping classes for a period, or trying to. A female professor, much to their consternation, could tell that the wrong twin was in her class. Might have been a mother thing. Might have been because she had two sets of twins. I walked over to one of the boys.
"Jeremy, you are a total living doll." I kissed him on his cheek then gave him a hug. Then to Jake, "Bud, you're so cute when you're trying to prank. It's not nice to tease your friend Skip though."
A heavy sigh from both boys told me I got it right. I also do. I always will. It's in the eye color, as I've said before, but it's also in mannerisms. Jake was fairly expressive when he talked, and was more devilish overall.
Sauce for lasagna was on the front burner, simmering for its last half hour. Aaron's Lasagna Assembly class would begin in a while. I was also tending to large slices of eggplant. This was a new item in my lasagna, as a substitute for so much pasta. Every other layer would be eggplant. It had the same texture as the cooked noodles. I gave fair warning to the guys ahead of time to see if they'd balk at my idea. None did. Including Skip and Billy, 1/3 of the guys were Italian. Their moms had used eggplant in many ways. The guys who ate healthier applauded my sensibility. Glad to see I possessed some.
After assembly, I put the lasagna in the oven to bake. It was late morning. Theoretically I should have made this yesterday so it would taste better today. However, it will taste just fine at dinner tonight. We decided to spend our afternoon outside. Soccer was the choice, since Skip could participate, unlike our other choice, basketball. In basketball, Skip was the ref. In soccer, he was the biggest cheater in the world, bar none. A fact that he was quite proud of. Often it took Billy or me to help him cheat, but he could do well enough on his own.
We reverted to our teenage selves (for me it was harder but still doable) for the next two and a half hours as we ran, kicked, yelled, complained, laughed, and scored. I ended up playing goalie toward the end because my legs were giving out. A good dose of exercise is healthy for most people, except guys and gals with neurological issues. I actually risked a speedier progression of my CMT if I overdid it. However, one has to live before s/he dies. Kinda like being a salmon swimming against the current. Sigh.
As the guys had done at BC in their dorm, once we got home again, they doubled, tripled, or made a foursome in the shower. That way, they didn't have to take hours. They wondered about the longevity of the hot water. We had a tank less water heater, so they were good. If they wanted playtime in the shower, I told them to go for it. I joked not to forget about me. Kenny and Jake arrived in the kitchen, where I was, naked and grinning. They picked me up and carried me to the master bath where Jeremy and David were already quite excited. I couldn't make a joke about a ten-gallon hat (like in Mel Brooks' western spoof ala "Is that a 10 gallon hat or are you just happy to see me") but I did tell David to be careful where he stuck that thing. He ignored me, much to my pleasure. The load the guys got out of me was quite impressive, considering I had given my all to Billy and Skip late last night. Even though I was a Canuk, Skip said there must be a stray Italian ancestor somewhere in my family history. Trust me, Frenchmen are no slackers in stamina and well-endowdness. I try not to brag, but it's tough. Humble lovable shoeshine boy, to which Skip or Billy replies that I am no "Underdog." True enough.
When we were done in the shower, Skip and company, who included Jerry, Henry GQ, and Paul, were up next. The shower upstairs was also in use. Billy was nowhere in sight, so he was either participant or leader. This condo so overflowing with testosterone it must be leaking out the eaves. Woof!
Quiet boys Greg and Brian helped set up a couple of tables and folding chairs that we had borrowed from JD. I don't talk a lot about these two guys, nor Jesse. Jesse and Paul were the two most affected by the loss of our Vincent. Jesse didn't want another roommate, and more often than not, he slept with another pair of roommates. He had tried sleeping alone but alone just was not a trait of these BC boys. Paul does not feel that he killed Vincent, though he does wish they had not gone out that night after dinner. I told him he could make a lifetime of wishes like that, but as Skip said, why wish for what you cannot have.
These are not guys in the background by any means. They tend to be a bit shy, but they had always been part of a very special group of suite mates at BC. They were both working now, as part of a professional association that they set up on my prompting. I had mentioned it early on in their days at BC. This tight fraternity had no desire to be apart from each other, by time or by distance. That would change a bit over time, but they would be part of our lives, and more importantly in Skip's travels.
Jesse caught me daydreaming. He roused me from it by wrapping his arm around my waist. "Earth to Aaron".
"Sorry bro. I get lost in all of you. Can't believe it was so easy to get you all to come for the weekend."
"Why? You're the one who said we belong to each other. You're as much a brother to me as my own, and as good a friend as I've ever had."
"Nice. You all do me proud."
"We had good teachers, and not always in the classroom."
Suddenly, without warning, I dropped like a rock to the floor. It took Jess by surprise, and anyone else who happened to get a glance at me as I disappeared behind the counter. Paul and Billy came running.
"Guess my exercise today was a bit much," I said as they stood me up and held on for a moment. Jess picked me up and put me on a counter stool.
So I overdid it playing soccer. It was not the first nor last time I'd land on my ass, even without stressing out my muscles. It was the nature of the CMT. As long as I didn't crack my head on something hard I was fine.
Patrick figured this was a good time to start making salad and bread for dinner. He brought Sam with him to help out, and asked Jess to hold me down if necessary. Nah, it wasn't. I could help butter the loaves of Italian bread and rub them with fresh garlic while the guys made salad.
Over an hour later, dinner finished and everybody pleasantly full, we sat around in the living room. We talked like we used to back at the dorm at BC. They had started their freshman year in college as complete strangers. Now they knew all there was to know about each other. They loved each other as brothers, albeit from a large family. Friend Matt in PA could relate to this group, being one of nine.
There is one thing our home will always have-camaraderie and love. We do indeed belong to each other. I don't say that often enough, and nobody seems to take it to heart. Just read the newspaper or watch news on TV. We're a world of strangers. It sucks. We are stupid and we are loving, but definitely not in a proper balance. We're all we got. Why doesn't anyone realize that? Surely if I do, others do. I'm no more special than any other soul on earth, and never will be. But sometimes, damn, does the world ever piss me off!
Happily these guys won't ever be part of pissing someone off. (And if they do, they'll have me to answer to.) I don't have to worry about that. They're my boys, and they feel honored by that. They love Billy best because he was the one, through a terrible trial, to bring Skip and me into their lives. If I had never met these guys, my life would be missing something, and I would constantly wonder what it was, never solving the mystery.
I sat quietly for a while, just watching them. Kenny was sitting between Skip's legs, his hands holding on to Skip's arms resting over his shoulders. He turned his head to look up at Skip. He kissed Skip sweetly. I saw a tear run down his cheek. He ignored it. Skip said something to him, but I don't know what. Kenny turned a bit more and then held Skip's head, kissing him deeply, touching his face, exchanging sentiments more with their eyes and less with speech.
It's interesting to see how the guys interact with Skip. At dinner, multiple guys had helped put food on his plate. Kenny was closest to Skip in the kitchen, so he took him to his seat at the table. With seemingly no thought beforehand, he made sure Skip was firmly seated and anchored so as not to fall from the chair. Hurting Skip was unconscionable. He wasn't breakable, anymore. Nor was he like fine china. But he could be hurt. No one wanted the guilt that that would cause. Trust me-I know that intimately.
Jake sat between my legs, with his brother sitting between his. These twin brothers were of one mind and one heart. I believe them when they say they never had sibling rivalry. They looked out for each other when they were growing up. Even now, Jake holding onto Jeremy was not just a hand resting on his shoulder. He had both arms wrapped securely around him. I had my arms wrapped likewise around Jake. We don't just touch. We hold on, and sometimes for dear life. Losing another one in this group would be too hard. Patrick, with his cancer, now healed, we hoped. Sam's own battle with hate and then with extreme prejudice. The boy knew more about learning a lesson than the rest of this room combined. Paul's now resolved guilt about Vincent, and Jesse's overnight loneliness for the remaining semesters without his roommate. Once in a while it became too much, so he would bunk in another room in a sleeping bag. The first time it was too hard on him, he had slept in the common room. After that, the guys told him to just come in their rooms instead. No one locked their doors overnight because the main entry to the floor was locked.
There was no happier time in our lives then when we were all together. This is far from the last time when the boys grace our home. They loved Skip and me as much as we loved them. Everyone thinks about Billy's terribly wrenching attack that brought us together. We know good because we knew bad.
It was after 1:00 a.m. by the time the last guy settled into his sleeping bag. The living room, upstairs den, and third floor bedroom was a sea of bodies wrapped up warmly.
One of the things we always do when we're together is plan for the next time we'll be together. It's not as easy now that most of the guys are working full-time jobs, and scattered across the country. Some are now engaged to be married. We didn't have to worry about these guys disappearing from our dance with life events. At various times we had met their fianc s. They were as nice and as down to earth as our boys were.
The guys thought about a lot of things, including their futures, while still in college. A couple had even talked to me, knowing I was once married and had been through the "female-induced trauma" that could set them on their ears. They just wanted to do it right. My advice? Be you. Period. Follow your heart. When there are times that are uncomfortable, work them out. Talk, don't just get mad and walk away. It takes two, and they could both be right and both be wrong. Meet in the middle.
Breakfast in the morning was more like what goes on in a diner than in a home kitchen. Billy and I got up early, leaving Skip to sleep more. We two were short order cooks over the course of two and a half hours. The guys who had early flights home headed to New Haven. We hugged as long as we could at the door. Each, as usual, would send an email when they arrived at home. I don't worry. Much. Kate and Vincent aren't far from my mind when the guys are traveling. It's fair to say they always will be.
When the house was too quiet again, I sat down. Skip rolled over to me in his wheelchair. He gave me wiggly eyebrows. I lifted him out and lay him on the sofa. I lay in front of him, facing him. Billy went out for a while to run errands. Skip didn't feel like getting bundled up to go out.
"You love me, right?" I asked Skip as we lay together that day.
"Yeah I...love you right."
Sigh. D j... vu. We've been here before.
"You love me, comma, right, question mark."
He laughed aloud, for the first time in a while. I waited. I dunno why, but I just needed to know. I'm not insecure in the love of two plus me. It's just nice to hear.
"I love you ... Aaron Jamison Langille ... with all my ... heart."
That from Skip is as good as when Jake calls me Daddy. Maybe just a tad better because he looked right into my eyes as he said it. He said it slowly. Even then his breathing made him stop where he didn't want to. I had to wonder if he'd ever get used to it.
The words are too good to add anything to them, so I don't. I looked into his beautiful eyes, into his heart, and into his soul. Sometimes I still think 'why me, I'm nothing special.' But maybe I am. To Skip. To Billy. Jake, Daniel, the BC boys. Mates old and new, even the younger ones like my Young Lad in Maryland. I can't argue against all that and say I'm not special. I will say, though, that I'm not unique. Blessed. Lucky, if one believes in luck. We are three. My two mates say it often, and always smile when they do so. Three bodies, one collective soul.
"Would you rather hurt, than to feel no pain, no sensation?"
"Why wish for ... what I cannot have?"
"I know, but humor me."
"No, I'd rather be like I am ... because it's now ... who I am. I'm your Skip. I'm ... also a quadriplegic. It ... doesn't scare me. You know what ... pain is like, better than ... most anyone. I feel you. That's ... good enough."
I shrugged. It was like an automatic reflex. I dunno, maybe humility. But I liked that he could feel me. Yes, it was good enough. As usual, done and done.
We were napping by the time Billy got back. He came to us and kissed us both on our cheeks, and then kissed Skip again on his forehead. Billy is love incarnate. What he feels for his brother and how he feels for him is nothing short of Heaven sent. I stayed quiet so Skip would sleep. His nights were restless sometimes. He had slept nicely when the house was full. Did he dream of his past work, using his hands to make things and build things? Did he run in his sleep? Away from something? Toward something? He knows he's safe. His time of being hurt badly is in the past. But he still had to wonder "What next?" on occasion. He's human.
What was next was to plan our Christmas vacation to Canada. We had old friends there who encouraged us to come back. I had a surprise that I was not going to share. It was a good one, of course, so I had no qualms about not saying anything.
Like most holidays do, Thanksgiving came and went. Mom and Dad came down to Connecticut to be with us. Yes, I do call them Mom and Dad. My own folks are gone. Betsy and JD have made me as much a part of this family as their sons. Betsy likes me most because she didn't have to endure childbirth for me, though she says that worrying about me can be as hard as childbirth.
It was amazing to see Betsy helping Skip with his meal. It made me think back to when he was an infant, helpless and dependent, being cared for by the woman who almost lost him before he was born, and then being stalwart enough to make a brother or sister for her little man. She had learned to do what the rest of us do-feed Skip and feed herself at the same time. None of us wanted Skip to feel like he was a burden. Being 'normal', whatever that means, around him made him an equal. Mom wasn't sad any more about Skip's quadriplegia. She picked up the phone at home when she was worried about any of us, but many more times she wanted to talk to Skip first and longest. She did not try to finish his sentences for him when they were talking. When someone did, even without knowing, Skip scowled a bit. He wasn't rude, but subtly asked for patience. Many more people were patient with him than were not.
Skip wanted to get a haircut before we left for Canada. The hint that it was getting a bit scruffy was me always pushing it out of his eyes when I kissed him. We had a regular barber. It took a little thinking on Skip's part about whether he wanted to go out in the village or for us to ask around the neighborhood for someone who'd cut his hair at home. He decided for himself. He wasn't embarrassed nor shamed to be seen in public.
We had also used a kind dentist whom Patricia recommended.
Whether we needed just a few things or a week's worth of groceries, we three would go shopping. A couple of the customer service gals were very fond of Skip. They knew he was partial to Eskimo Pie ice cream bars. If he wanted to hang out with them, either one or the other would buy him the treat and help him eat it while they had their own. Both were mothers, and I'd hazard a guess that they were good mothers too.
We'll depend on Andrew and Claire, and even Fiona, once we move to DC. We've got an ongoing list of things to do on my PC. Skip is in charge of logistics in our household. Since he can't write stuff down, he has worked on increasing his mental prowess. Like being blind and other senses taking over, being unable to write makes his brain a powerhouse.
Haircuts done, we amazingly handsome Three finished our packing. We had four duffels, one for each of us and one for the winter gear. Billy and I took our snowboards out of the hallway closet when Skip reminded us. We had discussed not taking them because it left Skip out of outdoor activity. We then worked that out by calling a couple of the inns to see if they could get us toboggans and sleds. I'm sure they were giving me a confused look, holding the phone out in front of their faces, scratching their heads.
I put my boots on and climbed aboard my snowboard. I, like Snoopy as the World War I flying ace, was suddenly transformed into an Olympic champion, riding the drifts and moguls of a powdery snow-laden mountain, sliding back and forth, arms outstretched in my thrilling ride to the bottom of the slope. The crowd goes wild. Okay, so not a crowd. Skip and Billy are two, and I probably wouldn't do this in front of any others except for my BC boys. They already accept me for what I am, nut job and all.
Billy encouraged me to do it again. This time he stood behind me.
"Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"
"I love a champion snowboarding athlete," he said, easing my jeans down a little.
He extended his arms like mine as he entered me. Italian DNA. Wow. Never wanting to leave our bud out of our nuttiness, and sex-capades, we made our way over to him on the sofa. Billy undid his brother's jeans and we took turns turning on Skip's own Italian genes. Billy and I played our own version of Russian Roulette, except with Skip's dick and the promise of a mouthful of creamy goodness. A while later, Billy was coming inside of me while I was coming onto the wood floor, while Skip gave me the first two ribbons of cum. I quickly passed Skip's dick to Billy, who took the rest of the load and then cleaned up our bud. Skip went soft, finally, inside of Billy's mouth. Billy went soft inside of me. I didn't because, come on, who could get by just being jacked off? Billy raised Skip's legs while Skip gave me those wonderful wiggly eyebrows of his. I took that as an invitation to carry on. Oh boy, did I ever carry on. When I was close, Skip said for me to come inside of him. He loved that I'd be a part of him, sorta like to have and to hold. If nothing else, we sure knew how to be creative in our sex.
On the day of our trip to Canada, Billy and I spilt the 14-hour drive. We arrived at Margie's inn just in time for dinner. We had called her along the way so she'd have her chance at cooking up and serving a nice hot meal. One very welcome and beautiful surprise (two actually) made an entrance from the kitchen just as I settled Skip into his chair.
"Oh my, aren't you two a wonderful treat," I said, straightening up and wrapping our two surprises in tight hugs.
Michael and Will returned my hugs and then grabbed tightly on to Billy. They then got on their knees down on either side of Skip's chair, each helping Skip to hug the other. They both kissed his forehead and touched his cheek. Before they let him go, they kissed him on his lips softly and sweetly. They looked quite sad, this being fairly new to them. Skip had been, and still was, Michael's long-time hero. Before vacation was done, Skip would show them both that their sadness was unwarranted. It was not to be dismissed, of course. Skip wouldn't tell anyone, and most especially Michael, that he was being sad without good reason. This version of Skip is not the one they had known and made love to. That too would change.
We had talked to the guys a couple months ago. They gave us no hint they would be here for Christmas. Margie had not said anything either. Women and their secret keeper ability. But then again, we did truly love to be surprised and amused. Only I knew they would be here because I had to tell them of our plans.
Margie set out pork chops from the grill on the back porch, tended to by the boys most likely. Sweet potatoes, roasted red potatoes, corn, fresh cranberry sauce, and full glasses of milk. We knew there would be dessert, so we knew to save some room. But at the same time, we all ate well enough so she wouldn't be worried it wasn't good. I tasted a bit of citrus in the pork chops. Orange juice and lemon juice marinade no doubt. Nice.
"May I help you with your meal?" Michael asked Skip.
"Of course." He smacked his lips.
I whispered in Michael's ear. He made a face that said he was skeptical, but willing. It took a few minutes, but Michael was able to eat while he fed Skip.
"Wonderful, Michael," said Margie. She was no less amazed and sad about Skip than any other person, but she also knew we three well enough to know we carried on.
My eye caught on the cross-stitch decoration that hung on the wall in what Margie had made a place of honor, so that all guests would see it.
The future isn't where my life is; it's in the moments I'm in.
She caught my eye and winked.
My attitude changing words. Words that, I now knew, were pretty good for a mere sixteen year old country farm boy. I held them close to my own heart every day. Every young man and woman within our circle of friends reminded me occasionally that they were doing the same. They had been the words that kept me alive through the onslaught of tumors, times of CMT attacking my body, hanging on for dear life to my son, and making now the only important part of my life. Done and done, as Skip reminded us, was how the past is handled. Tomorrow? Or even the next moment? Not here yet. Out of our hands. Not to be trifled with, but not to be taken so seriously that they paralyze us.
We can move only forward as very limited time travelers. I loved science fiction as a kid. There idea of space travel and time travel occupied a large portion of my thoughts. It was usual to find my brother and I lying down on the pastures of our dad's farm at night, year round, staring at and talking about the stars. We loved the August meteor showers best. We knew the major constellations of each season well, far better than I do now. Sad that I grew away from that. Now I talked quietly to Kate or Vincent on those nights that I stop long enough to take a breath. They are the two stars that shine brightest to my eye, so I know that they're there. Romantic? Yeah, of course. Untrue or unrealistic. No. Never.
After dinner we waited, as usual, for our meal to settle before we had dessert. Margie wanted us to relax in the living room, clearing the table herself, heading to the kitchen to check on that wonderful smell. We knew it was something warm and fresh because we caught a whiff of it when Margie went into the kitchen beyond the swinging door. Christmas music, the old standards that we loved so much, were playing as we sat in the living room in front of a warm fire. Skip whispered in my ear. I nodded and kissed him.
"Hey bud, sit someplace comfortable for two," I said to Will. He chose an upholstered chair near the fire. Billy pushed an ottoman up to him as well. Will put his legs up. I set Skip down between Will's legs, his back against Will's chest.
"Oh boy!" said Will, smiling.
Will held Skip close, arms wrapped around him, whispering sweet words into his friend's ear, sadness slowly yet surely draining away. When you touch and hold something that is real, you get all your senses satisfied all at once.
Michael had just come back down from upstairs, bringing Will's sketch pad. Will gently turned Skip's head to face him for a moment or two, getting the lay of the landscape. He then looked at Billy and me for a couple of moments. Skip watched as Will began to sketch, watching shapes and much more evolve, smiling at what he was seeing, winking over at Billy and me. Michael had settled beside me, sitting sideways and draping his legs over Billy's lap. Billy massaged Michael's bare feet. I kissed Michael on his cheek when he looked up at me.
"This is nice. I love you bro," he said to me, returning my kiss. "Is Skip really okay," he asked me, in a quiet voice.
"Why not ask him yourself?" I said. "No need to be shy."
"Skip?" he began tentatively. Skip gave him his full attention. "You, uh, you're okay?"
"I'm okay love. It's not a ... bad thing. It's just a ... different thing."
A tear ran down Michael's cheek. Skip's speech made both boys take notice. Will stopped sketching for a moment. Skip had not spoken enough at the table for them to notice his breathing pattern. I wiped the tears away gently. He nodded. It would take him a while to accept truth, but he would. Skip spoke only truth and sincerity. If he was not okay, he would say so. How hard for him to know that Skip had to struggle so hard after the horrors that he had lived. It was not hard to say "What next?!" in frustration. There was no answer for that. Man and nature could harm man in immeasurable ways, and cruelly. Live or die, and neither could be done half way for long.
Michael got off the sofa for a moment and went over to Skip. He held him in both arms and kissed Skip's forehead again. "I don't wanna be sad. How do you stand it mate?"
"In the moments ... I'm in," said Skip. "And not ... alone."
"Okay," Michael said softly. "I understand. You're still a better man than I'll ever be."
"You're a fine ... young man already ... Michael. Both of you ... guys, Will, of course. Be who you ... are. No better and no ... worse than someone else. We ... belong to each other."
Michael was holding Skip's hand. He put it to his cheek for a moment, as Skip would do himself if he were able. Skip moved his fingers a little, passing along a gentle caress. Will put his hand on Michael's shoulder for reassurance. Will himself accepted what Skip said. Michael kissed him before coming back to Billy and me.
Margie came in a short while later, carrying a tray. She set it on the coffee table. There were cups for hot tea and dessert for the six of us. She went back to the kitchen to bring the tea pot. Will put his sketch facing down on the floor so we wouldn't be tempted to peek. Skip had been watching and smiling at Will's progress. Of course it was something good. Will's talent was a joy to behold.
The dessert was a warm blueberry and raspberry compote, covered in a crunchy mixture of oatmeal and brown sugar, topped with fresh whipped cream. Tasting summer in the beginning of winter was a treat. Michael and Billy couldn't help but clown around. They fed each other from their own bowls. Billy put a dollop of whipped cream on Michael's nose, making Michael giggle like a young lad. Will asked Skip a question. Skip nodded. Will fed himself and Skip from Will's bowl, and then from Skip's He held Skip's cup of tea for him, careful not to spill and equally careful not to choke Skip on the hot tea.
After dessert was finished, Will picked up his sketch pad and resumed drawing. Skip watched intently. His expressions changed as the drawing came to life. Will didn't look up until he was done a half hour later. Skip looked up at Will, nodded as best he could, and then kissed Will softly. Will let it linger, holding Skip's head. Everyone who loved Skip loved him the whole way. Nobody could do anything half way around him. They had to give their hearts to the task at hand or not bother doing it at all.
Will blushed after he realized that Margie was still with us.
"Oops," he said sheepishly.
"Will, I've known you long enough to know that you're very special to me and to these guys. Same for Michael. If you think you shouldn't be yourself around me, you're doing me a terrible injustice. You've done nothing wrong."
"Thanks Margie. Guess I got carried away. Not hard to do, huh?"
"No. But don't pity your friend there. Love him for what and who he is, not what he was."
Will understood. He kissed Skip's cheek and made a theatrical smacking sound. We all laughed aloud.
This is but one reason we loved Margie. It's easy to think back to our first meeting, when she told us that Skip and I had made such a fine pair. Skip paired with anyone is a fine pair, and then some. We do tend to bring out the best in people, as Fiona, Claire's mom, had also proved. I'd rather be a bit humble and say that I'm a good man, but no more than that. I have my moments. Skip too, and Billy. But we sure loved those around us.
"May we see what you drew?" Margie asked.
Will turned his sketchpad around. There stood Margie, as real as life, behind us five guys, her hands resting on Michael's and Billy's shoulders. In an hour's time, Will had brought five people spread around the living room, into a family portrait that was stunning to behold. As usual, it was photographic art quality, far from 'just a drawing on paper'.
Will eased out from behind Skip, seating him comfortably in the chair. He went over and gave the creation to Margie. "I have a frame at home. It'll fit the paper size. If you want to frame it that is."
Margie was too surprised to speak for a moment. She stood and hugged Will, who hugged her back and planted a kiss on her cheek. Grandma and grandson, not separated by generations, but joined by heart.
I collected our bowls and teacups. I took them into the kitchen and added them to the dishwasher. Margie had already cleaned up the kitchen and dining room, so I started the dishwasher and went back to the living room. We sat and enjoyed brief bits of conversation as the fire slowly gave way to ashes and the music ran out.
The evening had been peaceful and full at the same time. There was nothing more to make it complete. Will and Michael went hand in hand to bed. Billy carried his brother upstairs and we settled in. Margie was close behind.
In our room, we three, Skip in the middle as usual, held tightly to each other, feeling blessed. We kissed goodnight. This was our home for two nights, and as fine a home as we'd ever had.
Hello friends and readers who read but haven't said "Hey" yet. It's been a long while, sorry for that, since my last journal release. Alive and well, but so busy, with a second surgery on my June 2010 injured eye. Still waiting and hoping that it worked. Onward we go.
Comments: ajlangille [at] gmail [dot] com