I had to change the title because this isn't about Andrew only. I should have changed the series name several parts back but I'm a creature of habit.
One of my regular readers (and E-mail friends) said that if I put a story up in the Nifty Archive soon that she would send me hate mail. I don't know when the 'guarantee' runs out on that promise, so I'll push my luck and write anyway. People think that I am not resting when I write, but I write to separate myself from the real world stuff that plagues me. Here I can be honest with myself as well as to tell a story that you all seem to like/love reading. Onward . . . sorry 'man' I have to write. (I call her 'man' because when she first started to write to Joe and me, she used her name in such a way that I assumed -- stupidly -- that she was a he. She seems to like me anyway).
I'm going to step back, again, to the past. Most of our readers have asked about meeting Joe from my perspective. Mr. Peabody is setting the 'Way Back Machine' for May 1990. (And I know some of you have no clue what the 'Way Back Machine' is -- so I'm curious to know who does and who does not. This is also a test to see if you people really read my stuff or if you glance over it and file it. Send E-mail because when the E-mail runs out, I'm back to reading cereal boxes, or worse yet, my own journals. Please save me from such a fate!)
When I met him, I was impressed that he owned his own business. It's a tough go, especially when one is young, to decide to go it alone, without the comfort of benefits and vacations paid for by a company, not to mention the security of a job every day. He looked to be late 20's but his matureness said that he was early 30's. I was 26 and mature enough, but he outshined me. He needs a technical writer and trainer. Ideally he wanted one person, but would hire on two for the contract, if needed. He wouldn't necessarily be as worried about skill sets as he would be about overworking his partner.
We talked at a local restaurant over lunch. It wasn't an interview, although it was supposed to be. He put me at ease right away. I had brought sample user guides and training material that I had developed in the past. He liked them. He didn't just brush over them. He'd look, ask a question, comment on the layout, ask what my tool set was, and so on until we had review the complete set. He smiled when he read my writing style. He said it was informative without sounding like I was teaching something by rote.
I had a week left on my current project, with a short lag until I went looking for my next one. Unlike Joe, I was a hired contractor for a company. Joe told me that he'd like to hire me for his project and we agreed upon a start date. I called a few days later to see if we could talk about the specs so I could be prepared when we started. I think he liked that.
We met up again over the weekend outside of Boston. I hadn't been out the beach for awhile so we drove up to Rockport, on Cape Ann. The water would still be quite cool since it was only May, but I took my sneakers off and rolled up my bluejeans. I love the ocean and walking on the beach, especially at sunrise. Joe told me that he and his college roommate came here often while they were in school in New Hampshire. We talked all day. I told him about my family, including that I had a brother who died 12 years ago of cancer. My folks were living in Pennsylvania, where I grew up. He told me about his family and life on a dairy farm in New Hampshire. I had talked to him only a few days ago and I was beginning to feel as if I'd known him a lifetime. It was also very strange for me to talk about Kevin, my brother so soon. Joe was very good at putting me at ease.
When I joined his project, development was half done. I sat at a PC and went through each screen, making a flow diagram as I went so that I knew the structure and could pick up any flaws early on. I found a minor one and Joe fixed it on the spot. That was the best I could do without being a brown noser. We worked a normal eight-hour day in the beginning. Towards the end of the project, we worked 10, sometimes 14 hours a day. Joe was a driven man. I don't know what was behind it, but it didn't take a rocket scientist to realize that he was on his own, unmarried. He was not a workaholic nor did he expect me to be either. I had a girlfriend and I was taking classes, trying to earn my Bachelor's degree. I felt guilty sometimes when I left on time and knew that he would not, but he promised to stay no more than an hour longer. He said he could work on the planning stuff at home.
The customers liked me and I like them. Training them was going to be a little challenging because the audience was quite broad in skill sets. But that's where I got to show off my talent to the fullest. At the end of training, Joe got compliments from everyone to pass on to me. I made myself available as tech support in case anyone needed further help. I was lucky, Joe had given me a sterling project to work on.
For fun, we played basketball. We were evenly matched but he had more experience because he was older. I decided, given the chance, I would not take it easy on the 'old man'. Playing ball was a way for us to improve our friendship. Joe did not consider me his employee or his subordinate. We were partners on the project. We even talked about being business partners some day in the future, if I would agree. I liked the idea but I told him that my education was my after-hours priority. He liked that I dedicated myself to something like that.
We toured around Boston, either with or without Lori, my girlfriend. When she was busy, she would encourage me to call Joe so that I wouldn't just sit around and wait for her. She and Joe seemed to get along okay. He was reluctant to go into the city proper, so we explored all the historic sights outside the city that we could. We did a day trip out to Old Sturbridge Village one Saturday and another to the Berkeshires a few weekends later.
I found out one afternoon why Joe was reluctant to be in the city. He had a meeting to go to and wanted me to come along. He had ulterior motives, only in that he didn't want to be there alone. Something disturbed his mind about being there, but he obviously loved the city because he talked of all the places he hung out in from college to the present. After the meeting, we went to Boston Common to walk around. It was evident that he wanted to talk, but he didn't want to initiate it. I did.
I did not do so to be nosy. I did so to give him an ear, or a shoulder. Joe told me about Chris. He started slowly to make sure that I was okay hearing what he wanted to say. I encouraged him by asking questions. I soon realized that Joe and Chris had fallen in love, out of a real friendship. Joe says it took only three months. After talking this much to him, I was a little surprised that it took that long. I had assumed that they had eventually drifted apart after college. I learned instead that Chris was killed here in Boston four and a half years ago. Joe was desperately trying not to be sad. It was obvious to me that he was still very much in love with Chris. The love affair was eleven years long. I was envious. I wondered if I would ever have the type of love that he and Chris had. I loved Lori, but I had to admit to myself that it didn't go as deep as Joe and Chris'.
I finally got him to spend more time in the city. It was his favorite place, he said. I wanted to do some of the things with him that he and Chris had done, for the sake of letting him relax again and enjoy what he loved of the city. Sometimes it was very hard on him to go back to the old haunts, but I tried to urge him into it, carefully. When he couldn't, because it hurt too much, I backed off and told him we could try again when he wanted to. I told Joe that I would go anywhere he wanted and to talk about anything on his mind. He tried not to shut me out, though sometimes he did so. I could be patient. I didn't know what it felt like to be in love and to have the love snatched away cruelly.
In time, we saw all the places that Joe had felt special in with Chris. He thanked me for listening to him, for not treating him different for being gay, and for letting him be my friend. I thanked him for showing me a little about what love really is.
In September, Joe went back to PA. I knew I was going to miss him and I told him so. I knew, too, that he would be back in the spring. He had helped me find a project in Boston to keep me employed for six months, until he came back.
Wednesday nights were my study nights at home. Joe called one evening when I was home, in November. He told me about his diagnosis of bone cancer. I immediately thought about my brother. Kevin's was blood-based, not unlike Joe's. Kevin and I talked a lot about his cancer. He counted on me to be there for him. Mom and Dad were supportive in their own way, but Kevin didn't need constant mothering. He knew he wouldn't live. He was nine and I was 13, neither of us very old. He wasn't scared, but I hadn't gotten him to tell me why. I never knew either. I'd like to say I was part of the reason, but I'll never know. Kevin died a year later, at home, with Mom, Dad and me beside him.
My heart hurt. But I didn't want to say 'I'm sorry' because that wouldn't do Joe any good.
"Joe, what can I do for you, man? Can I come down to see you?"
He accepted my offer, grateful, it seemed, for my choice of words. My feeling is that you always say what is in your heart. Those few words came from mine, not from my brain. Joe did something to me. I didn't have a handle on it. I knew I liked him, a lot. I know why, I think, Chris took so easily to him, but there is more. My heart tells me to care for Joe, not to just be a friend or work mate. His cancer did not scare me. 1990 medical technology was going to help him. He had said that he could come back to Boston for treatment if he wasn't getting adequate treatment in Pennsylvania.
I finished my studying for the night and went to bed. As usual, I lay nude beneath my sheets. My hand found its way to my crotch and I closed my eyes as I touched my balls. I was a little surprised that I was not thinking about Lori. I was thinking about Joe, but not sexually. Could I be horny just because I felt stronger friendship for him each day? Different things in the past have made me feel the same way that I feel when I'm horny, but not quite like it. Maybe I was missing him more than I gave myself credit. I liked all my male friends, but I had never been sexually attracted to any of them. Some were gay but they knew that it didn't matter in our friendship. I don't judge.
But what was this feeling for Joe? Maybe I envied Joe having shared so much with Chris. I couldn't explain it. Before I knew it, I had come on my stomach. I'd barely touched myself. I was fondling my balls and hadn't touched my dick at all. I smiled despite myself as I cleaned myself up. It was thick in my mouth and throat, more than usual. Joe, what you do to me. His face was on my mind, as I feel asleep. I would spend the weekend with him and be a part of his life again.
How did I come to love Joe? A lot of you ask. They say that I was a straight guy before I met Joe and some think I was living with a girlfriend. I had a girlfriend, yes, who I loved a lot. We did not live together. People seem to find greater security in living together, like they have to be in order to know that they love each other. I don't feel that way, nor does Joe, which is why he and I don't live together. I love him. He loves me. What's to prove?
I grew to love Joe because he told me, by showing me, what a friend is. He brought me into his life and shared everything with me. There isn't anything that I don't know about Chris. Joe trusts me completely and there isn't anything that I don't know about him. We became business partners, sharing in the business that he had started to build. We are a perfect compliment to the other in our business sense. He's had other friends that wanted to be his partner. He turned them down and asked me instead. He says my 'people skills' are better by far.
Lori, he said, was saying things behind my back that were not true. I had heard that once before from another mutual friend of Lori's and mine. She warned me to be careful, saying that Lori was a taker. A male friend who knows Lori confided in me, under the influence of alcohol, that he didn't like Lori. I'd never heard that while he was sober. But I had seen nothing of what they all said. I loved her because she loved me. She took, but she gave too. Maybe she wore two faces so that everyone would like her. The face she wore for me was fine. We talked about moving in together but I resisted. I needed time to study for my degree. I needed quiet time away from the noise of schoo and the chaos of a working life. I assured her that I wanted to spend our weekends and one night a week together so we could do what we wanted. She seemed to accept it and also liked the 'forced' quiet time that I allowed her. She was a woman on the rise in her career and I knew that if she was balancing her working life with her social life that she would have the best of both.
But she wanted it all, eventually. We had more and longer discussions about living together. I resisted again, thinking that what I had said over the previous months was going to satisfy her. She didn't like that I wouldn't put out more often for her. She thought we should sleep together every night. I didn't want or need it every night. She started looking elsewhere. I didn't know that she was finding it. Or maybe I just didn't care that she was. I could deny almost anything I wanted to.
She hounded me at work when I told her no to her constant advances. I told her that it was not okay to call me at work but she did anyway. One night it came to a head. We fought heatedly for three hours. I didn't want to give her what she wanted. I couldn't possibly give her everything because I had a life too. My folks were in Pennsylvania and I wanted to spend a weekend a month with them. Since Kevin had died, it was the three of us as a family. I thrived on that. She thought it was boring to spend a weekend a month away from Boston. That surprised me because I thought she liked my parents a lot. She was complaining that I spent too much time at work. But she also complained if I spent $40 on a gift for her when I should have spent $100. I tried to be fair, but I wouldn't spend a lot of money on her. I had put a sizeable investment into my business with Joe. We had talked about that before I did it and she thought it was a good idea, at the time. Then she said that the money really should have gone into a down payment on a house. She thought I had squandered $25,000. Compared to what Joe and I could make over the years together, that was a drop in the ocean. She made it clear to me that I would never satisfy her. So I said goodbye.
When I rang the doorbell at Joe's place I felt like someone had ripped out my heart and shredded it. I wanted to spend time at Joe's place because I knew I wouldn't have to listen to the phone ring all night. I could have taken it off the hook, but why? Joe would listen. With Joe there was shelter from the storms raging in my head. Dumping Lori meant I'd be alone again. The best friend I had in four years was now history. I hated it. I played what-if games in my head for an hour at home and for another 30 minutes on the way to Joe's. I hadn't called him first to ask if I could come. He would have said 'Yes' anyway.
We sat and talked until I was too tired to care any more. I let someone down, for the first time in my life. Maybe there would be a time when I didn't care any more. Above it all, I still had to care about me more than I did someone else, or that someone else wouldn't get anything good from me at all. Joe made me feel better. He listened and he didn't judge. He could have brought out all the dirt that he knew about, but he wouldn't stoop to that. He wanted me to be happy, period.
We had pizza on Friday night, after my funk had returned and grown starting in the wee hours of the morning. He brought me home and let me vent. We spent the evening in music and talk. I needed his character to hold me up. At bedtime he picked me up and took me to his room. I could have slept on the sofa again or in the spare bedroom, but he knew I needed comfort. He took my clothes off, wrapped his arms around me, and held me all night. I let him. He didn't do it for sex; he did it because he knows what it's like to be without someone you love.
In the morning I woke up and listened to his steady breathing. His arms were around my chest, still. I turned myself around to face him, without waking him up. I stared at his face for an hour. I tried to see what was inside his mind. I put my hand on his chest, feeling his heartbeat. My heart ached desperately for the man. I had lost a girlfriend. Joe had lost someone he loved deeply, deeper maybe than I could have ever loved anyone. I felt tears well up in my eyes as I thought about him being intensely in love with Chris. I thought of him being hurt so badly in the accident, and my heart ached even more. Joe knew what love and losing was.
I kissed him. I kissed him because I wanted him to stop hurting, even for a few moments. I kissed him because I wanted a sense of him to stay with me. If I took something from him, even without asking permission, I would feel better. Joe had given me friendship for three years. I didn't know how to give back to him, except to be a good business partner. I wanted to be a better friend because his heart was broken as badly as his body once was. I kissed him because he couldn't kiss Chris any more. Joe needed love as much as anyone, and deserved it as well. I hadn't thought about it until these early morning hours. I loved Joe, as a trusting friend. I wanted, somehow, for him to love me too. But I wasn't Chris, so I didn't know how he could love me. I lay with my chest to his. I was getting an erection. I hoped with all my heart that it would go away, but I could not turn away from Joe and stop what I was doing. I still believe today (May 11th, 1999 at 10:15 a.m.) that I kissed Joe because he needed me, not because I needed him. I had so few needs that I blew them off most of the time. But I was in agony that Joe was alone. Joe needed love, to give it and to take it. I hope that he would take mine.
Joe woke up while my lips were on his, while my arms were around him. I kissed him a moment more anyway. If he didn't want me to do this, I would stop, but he would have to tell me because I wasn't backing off right now.
"I'm sorry Joe. I couldn't help it. You looked so peaceful, and so handsome. I won't do it again."
"No man, I like it--"
Oh God, what did he just say? He said he liked it. He liked it? It was okay to kiss him? But he didn't know why, really, that I was doing it. Only I knew.
"--I just didn't expect it. I hope you didn't do it out of obligation--"
"I did it because I like you. You're ... my buddy. You care about me."
They weren't words. They were feelings. He did care about me. A friend who is just a friend does not pick you up and carry you to bed. A friend who is just a friend does not let a man carry him to bed and undress him. There was not sex in the act. There was compassion in the act. A friend who is just a friend does not hold you all night long and take away your fear. Joe's not just anything. Joe is everything, and I finally wanted to be everything back. It wouldn't happen here and now. It would happen over the course of the rest of our lives. It was up to him how much of me he wanted.
Joe looked into my eyes and into my soul beyond my eyes. He was testing me. If I flinched, if I looked away, I would lose him. I held his gaze. It was easy because his eyes are beautiful and calm, sincere, bright, cheering, deep, and offered me hope. I smiled a little. My handsome buddy of three years then kissed me back. My God, he put his lips against mine and kissed me, willingly. He asked me if it was okay. Yes, my man, it was okay. You changed my life in that simple kiss. I don't care if we ever do it again, or if we ever do more than that. It was a kiss better than any I'd ever had. It was the kiss of a friend who hurt for me, though only the smallest fraction of how much I truly hurt for him. It didn't make his caring any less than mine. Our friendship has never been about one-upsmanship. Our friendship is based on a two-way discussion about anything and everything important.
We had sex, made up of two hearts that cared for the other. It wasn't a purely physical act. Pleasure of that type can be found most anywhere, with most anyone. Joe had not done this in seven years. He wanted to show me what it felt like to be with a man, and not just by kissing. He moved between my legs as I made room for him. My cock was so hard that I thought it would fairly break apart from the force of the blood inside. He licked my body and sucked my cock. No one ever sucked me before and it was the most incredible feeling. Words can't describe it and do it justice. But it didn't feel wrong either. It felt right, although I was taking from Joe without that being my intent. Better yet, he looked at me while he did it. I watched my cock disappear into his mouth, his lips wrap themselves around me and the soft moistness swallow me to the base. My cock is seven inches long and only moderately thick. Joe took it all, and his tongue tickled my balls as he held me in his mouth. When he drew it out of his mouth, my cock was shiny and slick. He licked my head and then up and down the length. He sucked each of my balls into his mouth, playing with them with his tongue.
He knew it was me here with him and that I liked it. He licked my balls and even my asshole. I sucked in air, never expecting the sensations he gave me. I never thought about what 'kiss my ass' really meant, except as something said in cruelty to someone else. I was suddenly very self-conscious. I watched him. I felt him. My mind was a mass of sensation and color.
It finally became too much and I tried to push him off my cock. He sucked harder, making me come in his mouth. That in itself made me come all the harder. My body shook all over. No sensation of orgasm ever felt like that, not even my best time ever. This was my best time ever. And it was with Joe. I must be dead. No one is this lucky. And it only got better. He held me again. Did people touch after sex? Yes, and Joe did it as warmly as before sex. What had I done to earn his affection? Joe was God-like to me; I looked up to him and respected him. I had great admiration for his life. I doubted I was going to make it better. He took away all those doubts over the months to follow. Joe wanted me. And I surely wanted him.
Out of nowhere I started to speak about Chris, then stopped abruptly because I was afraid that I would bring back pain, and spoil the moment. I was terrified of what I spoke and apologized. He told me to finish my thought. He assured me that he and Chris did indeed love each other and that this was only a part of that love. So I wanted him to teach me more.
"I want to fuck you," he said to me.
He was a little bigger than I was. My ass was virgin. How was he going to put his dick in my ass without splitting me open? I wanted to trust him. Everything told me that I could. I was so afraid of it hurting. He started playing with my hole with his finger. After a few moments, he worked me with his tongue again. My fear was ebbing. His finger went back inside me, exploring my insides. It was too much. If his finger and tongue felt that good, I couldn't imagine what his cock would feel like. I gave in, before he changed his mind. Then he teased me senseless for a few minutes. Sure Joe, work me up and then withdraw your offer, see if I care! He liked to tease me. If I didn't know better, he'd sound terribly serious. I've learned not to take him seriously.
I only asked that he not hurt me. He told me, with his heart, that he'd never hurt me.
Joe lifted my legs and put them on his shoulders. He lubed his dick and then my hole. He put just the head in, pushing it past the tight ring of muscle. I immediately clamped down on his shaft. He slowly and carefully eased it into my ass. When he had entered me fully, he lay on top of me and kissed me. I held on to him as he slowly and smoothly fucked my ass. I could feel the muscle ring stretch to accept his cock. I could feel it massage my insides, feel it as it touched different parts of me. I could feel his balls against my ass. He slowed or stopped a few times so he wouldn't come too soon. He told me I was incredibly tight. I hoped it felt as good for him as it did for me. There was no feeling like this, ever, to compare it to. I secretly hoped that he was not comparing me to Chris. He asked if he could come inside me. I told him yes. It was the only place I wanted his load, to fill my empty hole. I came when he did, without touching myself. My cock against his skin had been enough. He licked my load off my stomach, leaving me clean and dry. He wanted more, so an hour later I came again inside his mouth while he sucked me dry.
He said sex without love was empty. We were full. And I took it to mean that he at least liked me a lot. To hear him say, one day, that he loves me will surely bring my heart an orgasm of its own. And he still wanted even more. He wanted me to fuck him. I was nervous. He knew I had never done it and he'd be forgiving, I'm sure, but here was where the comparison would start, to Chris especially. But I wanted to feel what Joe felt when he entered me.
He swallowed my cock as I eased it in him. I had to be careful, remembering that he hadn't done this in many years. I was afraid I'd hurt him. He smiled when I was all the way in. I left my cock buried up to my balls. I wanted him to feel it, and get accustomed to it. I leaned forward, kissed him, and watched his eyes for any sign that he didn't like what I was doing. There was none. I pulled my shaft out, almost to the head, and then slid back inside. My cock tingled. Why hadn't it tingled before? Was a man and a woman that much different? I did it again, getting into a rhythm, pulling out and pushing in, hoping that he felt as good as I did. I felt like a virgin all over again. And he smiled. He watched my face and my eyes intently, never looking away or seeming that he was daydreaming. He knew I was here and he made me fully understand that he was enjoying me fucking him. I didn't want to come yet. This is something I wanted to do for awhile longer. I left my cock inside him and lay on top of him. I told him that I just wanted to stay inside him, but I didn't want to come so soon. I felt his asshole relax a little bit around my dick. When I felt myself getting softer, I pumped slowly in and out a couple of times to keep me hard. We kissed. He put his hands on either side of my head and smiled at me so sweetly that that alone could set me off. His legs were around my shoulders. He moved them down and held me around my lower back instead. This took more pressure off my cock. He held my hand, kissed my neck, and licked my ear. He was going to set me off anyway. Ten minutes afer stopping, I had to come. I couldn't wait. He was driving me crazier with his tongue than I was him with my cock. I put his legs over my shoulders again and held on to them. My rhythm was still slow and smooth, but the cum filled my balls until they were going to explode from being so full.
I came again and again in his tight ass. My whole body tingled. It had never been so good. I shook from head to toe. Joe laughed at me, out loud, enjoying my first fucking with a man. Typical Joe -- he encouraged me and maybe was a little selfish at the same time. He liked what I did -- how much was yet to be talked about.
Joe still does not know, as he lays beside me in ICU, of what that morning was all about for me. He will when I read this journal to him. I fell out of love with my girlfriend beause she, as my friends were telling me, wanted everything. I fell in love with Joe because he wanted nothing.
It did not take Joe more than a few days to tell me he loved me. When he did, I cried. I had told myself I would be ready for the words and that I would simply smile, kiss him, and say "and I love you, too, Joe". But he had loved only one other before me. Could he love me the same way? I was afraid.
"Andrew, I thought you would be happy to hear that."
"I thought I would be too. I am, but I'm scared. Joe I can't live up to what you had with Chris. I can't come close. I'm only your friend."
"And you know that Chris was only my friend. Friendship is the base, bud. We build, one moment at a time. I don't want you to live up to Chris. You're not him, bud. I don't want you to be. I want you because you stole my heart, at the outset. And you did that when I told myself that it would never happen again. I thought, without my Chris, that I could never possibly be happy. I've never looked at another man, in lust or in curiosity. But I looked at you. You've changed me. The very first time I ever met you, I went home that night and I jacked off. I couldn't get your face out of my mind, man. You made me so hard. And I came again at bedtime and then again the next morning. I wasn't thinking about your body either, or sex. I was thinking about your sweet face, your smile, your eyes. You've made me love you. I do love you Andrew, right here.”
He touched his heart. He took his polo shirt off and then took mine off. He put my hand on his heart and put his on mine.
"I love you Andrew. You bring me life. I want to be with you, to love you, to let you love me, and to share life so that we are happy.”
He put his hand on top of mine, on his heart. I put my hand on top of his hand, on my heart.
“I love you, Joe. I promise to love you has long as I breathe.”
He put his arms around me and pulled me close. We stepped up the friendship today, and kissed in celebration of our blessings. I didn't want to let him go. I held him and kissed him. I put my head on his chest and held him as we stood in the middle of living room. He held me close.
“Just checking. Don't ever let me go. My heart beats from this moment forward just for you.”
“No man, keep Chris in there too. Please. You know you love him still. I know you love him still. That's okay because I know you love me just the same, at maybe you will someday I can live with that. Please?”
“Okay my bud. If you say it's okay. I do love him still. And I love you as much, not someday ... right now.”
Joe has been sleeping upwards of 20 hours a day. I hate it (maybe I'm jealous because I sleep 20 hours a week). I worry about it because the last time Joe did that, he slipped back into the coma for four months. I'm a selfish man who wants one thing -- Joe. In Joe is my heart, my soul, constant love, unconditional love, inspiration, smiles, laughter, music, a depth of knowledge, a deep ocean of caring -- and my life.
May 21st -- Joe went back into the coma this afternoon. Maybe it's his body's way of healing. He shuts down, almost completely, and the body knits itself together piece by piece, cell by cell. I could learn something from him I think, but the shutdown is too complete. Maybe it's his way of saying he hurts too much, that he can't stand up to the pain. My anxiety level, when Joe is in the coma, is higher than at any other time. I'm afraid of the coma being one small step away from death.
The Memorial Day holiday weekend:
Joe's heart arrested Saturday in the late afternoon. Mim yanked me out of his room and escorted me quickly down the hall so I could not see what was happening. I would imagine that nurses have drills to practice for just such events, so that friends or family are out of the way and out of view when someone they love is in great distress.
"His heart arrested, flat lined. You've seen enough TV, I'm sure, to know what that means. The crash team passed us on the way in. Don't worry, Andrew. They are very good at what they do."
"I know, Andrew. But you can't help. It would be too hard for you to see, and frustrating besides because it's out of your skill range."
I sat in silence and looked at the floor. Mim took my hand.
"He'll be okay. Believe it Andrew, with all your heart. Wish it to be true."
"I am, Mim. I'd give him my own if I could."
"He loves you. He'll live because of you, and for you."
"I hope so."
I continued to sit and stare at the floor. If I stared long enough, I could almost burn a hole into the tile with my eyes. I saw Joe's face outlined in the floor. He was smiling, looking upward to the sky, the wind blowing his hair. He looked back and stared at me.
Beth came out to the lounge twenty minutes later. She stood and held out her hand to me, like mom's do to their children to walk with them. She was smiling gently.
"Joe's okay, Andrew. You can come back now."
There was a lump in my throat. I don't know exactly what happened in Joe's room and imagining it was bad enough. I couldn't think about all that physical stuff, and what effort it must have taken to revive my bud. When we got back to his room, it looked as if nothing had happened here.
I bent over my love and kissed him to let him know I was here again.
"Joe, you're making these people here work too hard for you. You're not the only patient in this hospital so stop behaving like you are."
My words betrayed what my heart felt. There were large red welts on his chest and side. I closed my eyes and turned away so I wouldn't see them. I took his right hand and put in inside my shirt, touching my own chest and heart. I let the few tears flow down my cheek and to the floor. Mim and Beth each gave me a hug and a kiss then turned to leave. I put Joe's hand back at his side for a moment and called them back. I put both arms around Beth and gave her a proper hug. Mim's hand was on my upper back as I turned to her and hugged her as well.
Monday, Memorial Day, well before dawn. I was sleeping soundly beside Joe when a shrill noise woke me. I wasn't even awake fully before being spirited off again.
"Wait--" I yelled as I turned back.
I was in Margie's arms and she wasn't taking 'wait' for an answer. We didn't stop until we reached the nurse's lounge and the door closed.
"Damn Margie! What's with Joe's heart? Is he going to die?"
"Tell me, dammit! I want to know straight. Does he even hear me, or feel me here? Is he giving up?"
"No Andrew, he's not giving up. I don't know, fully, if he hears or feels you, but you and I have to believe that he does. It's how he'll have the strength to heal and to come back. And you too have to have faith in what you're doing. You're not wasting your time, any more than we nurses are. We've told you before that you're the reason Joe will live, not us."
"But he's not living. He's very painfully and very slowly dying."
"Yes. He's slipping from me day by day. Why the coma? Why the flatlines?"
"It's his body fighting against him, Andrew, not his soul or his heart. He wants to live. If he didn't, he wouldn't be here 14 months after the accident. He's fighting very hard to be with you and against his own body. Don't give in."
"But what if he dies before we get back?"
"Not on my shift he won't," she said indignantly with a slight smile. "Seriously, Andrew, a patient doesn't last this long and then die. He would have done it in the first few days. You're keeping him here."
"But is that fair either?"
"Yes. But I have faith, too."
"How Margie? How do you keep it? I'm losing mine."
"No Andrew. I see what you do with Joe. I watch and I learn from you every day. Look at the time you've been here."
"But sometimes I haven't been."
"Five days, Andrew, in fourteen months. You've been away only five days. 18 hours a day Andrew, seven days a week for fourteen months. You believe you're helping Joe or you wouldn't invest that amount of time. Never, in the 30-odd years that I've been a nurse, have I seen someone so loving and so devoted. I know what you were doing when Joe's heart arrested. Are you feeling guilty you were finally asleep?"
I couldn't say anything.
"Andrew? Are you?"
I stared at the floor. She wouldn't like my answer.
"But sleeping soundly beside the one you love is something you've been doing right along. You're not Superman, my friend. You can't be. Isn't it enough that you love Joe?"
"I don't know. Is it?"
"Is it from your perspective?"
"But only until he dies."
"You're so sure."
"Yes. You taught me that."
"But I don't feel it any more. Did I teach you a lie?"
"No Andrew. Believe. You better believe, for Joe's sake."
I sat quietly, thinking. She let me. Thirty minutes passed. She didn't leave my side. Forty-five minutes now. No word from the nurses station in ICU. I looked at the clock on the wall and at Margie. She looked at me, telling me to be patient without speaking the words.
At 4:20 the door opened, then closed as Joyce came in. She asked Margie to step to the other side of the room.
"It's okay, Joyce. Andrew might like to hear, too."
"I'm sorry, Andrew. I didn't mean any disrespect. Joe's doctor says we are to prep him immediately for surgery. He's stable one minute and in distress the next. His heart is not pumping blood properly and the surgeon thinks the valve and the aorta are leaking. Joe's leg is also getting almost no circulation. The doctor didn't like how it looked and he says it's cool to the touch, which means there's little blood flow."
"Can I see him, please?"
"Yes. You have some choices to think about. The doctors will need permissions as to what they can do in surgery, including about Joe's living will. The doctor wants to spend some time with you now."
Joyce looked at me with great empathy. I know neither she nor Margie envied me what I had to think about. I needed help with the decisions though. I had to talk to Joe's family.
I spent almost an hour talking to Joe's sister here in PA and with his sister and brother at home. All three said that the final decisions were mine, because I was here and knew what was best. I was hoping for an easy out but they weren't giving me one. I would have done the same as they did.
By 6:00 I had talked to the surgeons, got the full scoop on Joe's heart and on his leg, and signed the papers. The papers said that, if necessary, the surgeons could amputate Joe's left leg.
I'm the last one in the world who wanted to make that decision. Joe had bone cancer in that leg. He still had the leg because he had refused such radical surgery in the past. He would rather endure radiation and chemo than to lose the leg. He ran 5K and 10K races all over the northeast part of the country. He ran in defiance of the pain, knowing he beat it as he finished each race. He didn't have to win the race but he had to finish. If he could not, then he did not run it. I know of one that he did not enter because of the pain he had all week. the pain had driven him to my arms every night. I didn't not sleep at my own place all that week. He'd thought seriously about training for a marathon. He talked about beating "Heartbreak Hill" outside of Boston. I wouldn't tell him that he was dreaming. He was dreaming, and he knew it. But he was hoping at the same time. Hope is eternal, because he always looked forward.
He played basketball every day, whether just shooting hoops or playing all out in a game. Basketball was the passion of the man's life. He walked around his apartment carrying his ball when we were home. He watched it on TV and knew everything about his favorite team and half as much about all the others. We had sex in the living room while a game was on. He didn't watch any of it, depending on what we were doing, but he knew everything that was going on. I've been a basketball fan and player since I was a kid -- Joe too. But he wasn't just a fan -- he was a fanatic.
He'd already had multiple surgeries on his leg because of the first accident, because of the cancer, and because of the second accident. To lose it now would be a major defeat and it would make all those other surgeries useless. What would he want me to do? I thought I knew, but now that the staff prepped him, I doubted everything I ever knew about Joe. If I'd made any wrong choices, in his eyes, there would be hell to pay. I closed my eyes, lay on his bed, and tried to think that what I had done was right. I didn't trust my judgement.
"He'll be fine, Andrew."
I didn't open my eyes. She came and took my hand, and brushed my hair off my forehead.
"You have to say that, Margie, it's your job."
"Only when I believe it. False hope is a lie. He has a good trauma team. Another is coming in at 6:00 tonight from Philly. This is going to be a long day Andrew. He could be in there more than twelve hours."
"Then I'm going to stay right here and think about him. I don't want you to make his bed up fresh, not just yet. His scent is right here. I need it."
"Okay. You can help me change it later, when you're ready. I know you don't mind doing that, but think good things, Andrew. If you think about anything bad, Joe's going to know. You're the strongest thing in his life and he feels everything you do."
I opened my eyes and put my hands behind my head. I crossed my legs at my ankles. This is my 'total relaxation' position.
"That's why I'm here. My friends think I'm doing this out of routine by now, because I've done it for so long. They don't love anyone like I love Joe, not if they say things like that."
"I think some of them are just trying to understand you and Joe, and they don't. I watch you every day, more than I watch Joe. Joe really would have died in the first few days if you were not here for him. It would have been easier for him, but from everything I know, Joe doesn't take the easy out. You couldn't, even if you wanted to. Tell me, what do you do on a normal day, on a work day?"
"I get up at 6:00 and run every morning. If I'm with Joe at his place, we run together, otherwise I run one of two routes near my place. I shower, eat breakfast, and drive to work. Joe and I work each morning on project specs or work out training and documentation issues. We eat lunch together and then walk for half an hour each day. I teach in the afternoons while he works on the programs we've designed."
"We either go back to his place and cook dinner or I go to my evening class, or I go home and study. He comes to my place. I study with Joe -- he quizzes me on the material. We go to a movie, or out to dinner on the weekends or play basketball. We bike through his neighborhood or mine. On the weekends we run together, read the Sunday paper in one of the local parks, cook breakfast, or just hang out and listen to music."
"You got a full week. Tell me what you do now."
"I work only in the afternoons because of my back. I spend most of my days at Joe's side. I walk through the corridors and stairways at night. Or I walk outside."
"For Joe. I look at the moon or the night sky. I listen to the crickets and bullfrogs. Then I come back in and tell Joe what I see and here, so he does to."
"You've given up your life Andrew. You have no life. You spend it with Joe. Who would do that for someone?"
"Someone who loved someone enough."
"Is love the only reason?"
"My family wouldn't do this for me, Andrew. I don't know that I could do it for them, either. This is twice as hard as what you used to do every day. Why give it up? Why not work a full day, other than your back problem? Why not go out with your other friends? Why not come a few hours each day after work, and then go home to run or kick back, and then get some sleep?"
"I love Joe."
"When do you study?"
"I gave up my education for now. It's on hold."
"I thought so. I haven't seen any textbooks here since last summer. What were you going for?"
"My Bachelor's degree in Information Systems, with a minor in Education."
"You didn't finish college when you were younger?"
"No. I wanted to work and get some experience so school wouldn't be so hard."
"And you've given it up, at least for now."
"Yes. I need to be here."
"I love Joe."
"There is no other reason, Margie. I love Joe. The end."
"And that's the difference Andrew, between Joe surviving and dying."
I see what she had done to me. And in the end, Margie helped me to think only good things for Joe. She helped to see that being here 18 hours a day, and giving up my life for Joe was acceptable because I was insuring he'd live. I made Joe know I was here and not just out in the world, thinking about him. Being here is why he could live, even if in coma or through a major surgery. There were no tears that day. There was anxiety, but at acceptable, reasonable levels.
Joe's surgery was to repair a valve and damage done to his aorta. The hours were endless. I lay on his bed from 6:30 until almost noon. Margie and I changed his bed together. She worked a double that day so she could be near, more for me than for Joe because she couldn't help Joe right now. She said I could, just by being a physical presence. If Joe felt me here, he'd fight.
He fought, indeed. He won and lost in the fight. His heart damage was repaired ever so slowly and carefully. But his leg was lost because the blood flow would not work, despite spending nearly 8 hours on the leg alone. A lot of it was microsurgery, to open up veins or arteries to let the blood flow. Some of it was structural. Some of it was to fix nerves that had no feeling. It was an above-the-knee amputation; well above the knee. Joe lost 3/4 of his leg. I'm convinced Joe will hate me for what I did. My brain knows that it was the right thing to do.
My heart does not. All of my readers say that Joe will eventually be fine with it. But what happens when I have to tell him? He won't cry and be unhappy about it because it's not his way. I'm afraid, and until my Joe accepts it, I will remain afraid. And for making the decision, I'm going to have to prove myself all over again to him. I'm going to have to prove I love him. I'm going to have to prove I still deserve his trust. He'll think, for a time, that I don't love him because he's not Joe anymore. He'll think I do and will pity him. I don't, but he doesn't know that. He'll need a lot of help to get around for awhile. He's independent and will hate giving that up. Physical therapy now takes on a whole new meaning. It was hellish enough the first time. All I want is to hold him and for him to hold me. I want to hear him tell me he loves me. What if I never hear that again?
Joe was in surgery from 6:30 a.m. on Monday to 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday. I cannot lie beside him in his bed for a couple weeks, until his heart is okay. He needs to heal and if I am moving around on his bed, even when I try not to, the internal incisions and sutures will tear. The nurses and I made up the cot that I slept on before, after Joe's accident. We are back in ICU. Joe has yet to enter a regular hospital room. He's made it only as far as CCU, one step removed from the ICU.
Many of our readers think Joe and I should get a place together. To me that means, intended or not, that I should take better care of him. Or that he'll need me around more. The reason Joe and I live apart is for the reason we said before -- we do not have to live together to prove that we love each other. Joe's independent. Me too. I like my quiet time without intervening on his. We're business partners and we work together. We will be for as far ahead as I can possibly see. He's there when I want him and I'm there when he wants me. I love Joe, absolutely and unconditionally. If he wants me to move in with him forever, I will do so without question. The choice won't be mine. If Joe wants to fend for himself, I respect him enough to know that he can. If he wants me, I'm there. But I won't raise the question to him.
Several of my readers have told me they are re-reading the journals. I too am re-reading all the journals. I find it hard to cry because there are no more tears. I read them so that I know where we have been and where we are going. I read them because my Joe wrote half of them and you know how much I love him. It rips my heart up to see him. His beautiful face is scarred from two accidents. His heart still beats very unsteadily. His breathing scares me because it is raspy. I haven't seen his eyes in frickin' weeks and I hate that. No smile from him. No 'I love you bud' from him. I hold his hand but it does not hold mine back. But I hold it anyway. I hold my hand over his heart so he can feel my energy. I whisper 'I love you, Joe' in his ear and I kiss him every day. I miss making love to him. Everything he taught me says we are okay with what we do, because it's about love.
Sometimes, someone won't let you tell them 'No'. There is a guy that I consider The Friend (capital T, capital F) because he won't let me say 'No' to him.
I want to introduce you to a friend of Joe's and mine. His name is Wayne. We've known each other about four years now, maybe a bit longer. Joe and I are on contract to a Blue Cross-Blue Shield organization. Wayne is an employee, which is how we met.
He is a rare find in a friend and Joe and I are both very lucky to be acquainted with him. I know I do not talk much (if at all) about the other friends that Joe and I have. We are blessed with a good many. We are more blessed with one very good man who we happily and sincerely call Friend. He's a native New Englander (and when he and Joe kick up their accents, I can only sit back in amazement that they actually understand each other -- for example, 'car' is pronounced 'cah', while 'idea' is pronounced 'idear'. No, I don't know why -- just because).
Wayne, frankly, is probably the top one or two reasons why I will live, despite myself. The man, though he's been 'through the mill', as it were, lives in positive and meaningful love of life. Here's some background that he says is okay to share:
We had a long talk this evening after work. He's terribly unhappy to see me fighting so hard to support Joe while letting my own needs go by the wayside. (I don't see it that way, but then again Wayne is not the only one telling me this). He says, honestly as I can hear it, that he can't help Joe the way I can so he won't even try. But he can help me to stop struggling so hard. We're working on what that means. It does not mean that he will replace what you all and I have going. But he is local support and a strong sense of character to lean on when I'm down or, more to the point, not taking care of myself. I've spent 14-15 months saying that I can take care of Joe and me by myself. I cannot. So Wayne won't hear “No thanks, I'm okay” from me again.
Most of all, it means I trust him. He talks from his heart, with extreme caring and a level of support that does not smother. (How you all do that is above me but I'll accept it for what it is). He doesn't guarantee that I'm going to sleep any better, but he will nearly guarantee that I get some needed attention along the chain of command so that I do not falter. We will talk some more and I will listen. He won't impose his will on me, but he knows about life -- and lives anyway. Maybe I will continue to live well too. Here's hoping . . .
Right now I miss kissing him worse than I miss our love making. There have been six nights since that first one that we have not kissed. The night of his accident was the first night; I could not kiss him in ICU. His lips were so swollen, his face so beaten that I could not kiss him without severely hurting him. The five nights that I was away because of my back surgery are the only other times. I kiss him each morning and I kiss him each afternoon when I get back from work, and I kiss him each evening before I go to bed. Some day I hope he will kiss me back. I live for that moment. Should it never happen, I will at least know that he died knowing without a doubt that I love him. I know I shouldn't think like that, but I'm forced to. I see my Joe here. I know what he looks like. He must be in terrible pain to want the relief of the coma instead. His heart monitor still tells a story of an unsteady heart. It's been two weeks since his surgery and the heart isn't any better than it was that morning. The doctors say he might need a pacemaker. The meds aren't working to regulating his heartbeat. He's at the maximum dosage that he can have. My anxiety is high. I also miss sleeping beside him, badly. I wonder if he knows that I can't.
June has just begun. Month 15 in progress ...
To be continued ...