Jake -- Part 5
We were in the kitchen, getting dinner ready. Matt had taken Joe out for a run around the neighborhood, so only Jake and I were in the house.
I had to smile at Jake. He always looked me right in the eye when he wanted to ask something that was hard or important. I would give him my full attention, no matter what I was doing. He would start off that way to give himself a little courage. But then he looked at the floor and started to turn away.
"Come on you, you can say anything to me. Don't back off now."
I didn't want to see him unhappy, or unsure. He had enough of that. I was working so hard at being THE person he would talk to about anything, any time of day or night. I stopped what I was doing and turned him away from me. I put my arms around his chest. Sometimes it was easier to talk to someone this way. If you haven't noticed, I'm a very physical person. Touch is my lifeline. I like to be held and I like to hold. Jake liked it. Daniel liked it. Mattie thrived on it. Joe lived for it, and the guys say it is why Joe lived, because he felt connected even in a coma. Jeff did it almost as good as me. Almost.
I waited. He put his hands on my arms and leaned back against me, head tilted back on my shoulder. He stood there for a few minutes, thinking about what he wanted to ask.
"You know I love you, Jake. Don't be afraid of me."
"Yeah, I know. I love you too, Aaron. But, I'm scared. If you told me `no', I wouldn't know what to do."
"So ask. I can't imagine I would deny you much."
He didn't say anything yet. He was thinking. He rubbed my arms. He finally turned around and looked me straight in the eye.
"Could you adopt me?"
He took me by surprise. Jake was good at asking me things, having thought about them for days. He would have thought about this one for a long while.
I'll hit the `pause' button for a moment on that conversation and step back to Christmas. Four days after Christmas, Jake heard from his mom. A restraining order barring her from seeing her son had been more than enough to wake her up. Jake's father physically abused him. I think that tortured him is a better word. I've woken more than once with a start, seeing the image of Jake's father breaking his arm like kindling wood. I would get out of bed and walk to his room, to make sure he was all right. I would sit beside him on the bed and push his hair out of his eyes. I stayed a few minutes, holding his hand, and then I would kiss him lightly on his forehead.
Some nights Daniel stayed over and slept with him. It was very rare that Jake's bedroom door was closed, even with Daniel there. For that matter, neither was mine. If Jake was with Daniel, I left them alone, even if the door was open. If he or they wanted privacy, the door was closed. If he was alone, I'd knock and wait for him to say it was okay to come in, again door open or not. He told me I didn't have to knock.
"It's your apartment you know," he'd tell me.
"And this is your apartment too. I'm not the landlord or your parent. I'm your friend, and I'll respect your privacy. Sometimes I need mine too."
There was one rule of my home -- no brooding alone. That went for everyone equally. If he wanted me to hold him, I would hold him. If he was sick, Jeff or Mattie or I would help. He would help me in return later in the week. If he wanted to be alone to listen to music, he could take any CD he wanted from my collection. I had bought him a dozen of his favorite CDs for Christmas and a dozen more for Daniel. Daniel gave Jake a bookshelf stereo system for Christmas.
Daniel didn't want to abuse the privilege of being a guest in my home. He finally understood that he was not a guest after the first time. Home is a place to come to, even if you have one. I loved to cook. Jake wanted to learn. Daniel was already handy. Both boys worked, brought groceries (hardly necessary), and shared meals with Jeff and Matt, the girls, and Joe. Joe benefited from having a senior sports medicine student in the house.
So, back to Jake's mom. She had left Jake's father before Christmas. It would have been hard, and the timing would have sucked so bad for her. Jake said they had been married for a couple years before he was born, so about 23 years. I cannot imagine that is easy to walk away from, with almost no place to go. She went to stay with her sister. Jake assured me his aunt was very nice, so his mom was better off there than with his father.
Jake told me his mom had no part of the beatings, except that she turned a deaf ear to them. She did very little to stop them. He thinks she could have, even a little. He would resent that for a long time to come, but he also thinks his father would have hurt her had she interfered. I would think that she would have confided in family or a friend or a neighbor. Jake was her son after all.
She wrote back to Jake, via E-mail, after Christmas in answer to his message. It had taken us several attempts to get her correct work E-mail address. He couldn't call home. He could not see her at work. She was specifically forbidden, by the district court, to be near him. But he wanted to be with her, to see her.
We had called my police sergeant friend and he in turn had called the district court judge, who called us back and laid down the law. His only contact with his mom could be by written note or E-mail.
But Jake wanted to know if she was all right. Jake had never seen his father lay a hand on his mother, but that doesn't mean she didn't suffer. Jake was happy that I had taken him away from his abusive father, but he worried over his mom. When she answered his E-mail, it made him want to see her even more.
I had to call the district court judge again. He would listen to me, not altogether impartially, because I was also a friend to him and his wife. I was their support for the home PC and occasionally he'd call me at work and ask me for advice about his office PC.
Anyway, I explained that Jake had followed his restrictions and had successfully contacted his mom. Now he wanted to see her. There was silence on the other end of the phone for a moment. The Judge was not one to jump to any conclusions, for or against. He had been a police officer before being appointed to judge. He had seen people at their worst.
"He can see his mom in a public place, and only if you accompany him. He can't go off alone with her. You can stand in the background, but he must always be in your sight, and you have to be able to get to him quickly if he needs help."
Jake wanted to take it slow, so he told his mom where he wanted to meet and that it could be for only a few minutes the first time. Where, when and how long they were together was to be his decision. He told his mom about me and said I would be there too. Jake knew I would be okay with her over time, but it would take a while for her to earn my trust, and even longer to earn my respect.
Jake drove us to the mall. They met in the food court. I sat on a bench within sight, but out of hearing range. I watched. His mother watched me watching her. She tried to smile but it was not easy. The last time she had seen me, I took her son away. I imagine that I was hated. I hoped she saw that I knew what was best for Jake. I nodded my head slightly to acknowledge her.
After 30 minutes, Jake came and sat down beside me. He had not hugged or kissed his mom hello or goodbye. Love would be earned back, but not in one meeting. Jake knew that she had driven over an hour to meet, and would drive over an hour home again.
"Aaron, that was so hard."
"Are you okay, love?"
"No. I want to hate her. I have to, for what she did, or didn't do. She hurt me as much as he did."
"You can't hate her. You don't have to. Maybe she was afraid."
"I was afraid too, dammit! I'm the one who couldn't sleep in my room at night for fear of being hurt again. She didn't tell anyone. I still don't know what she thinks about me being a fag."
"You're not a fag."
"No," I spoke softly.
He didn't say anything. He sat up against me as he watched his mother put on her coat. She watched us together for a moment and then walked in the other direction.
"Goodbye mom," he said in a low whisper. His voice cracked. He tucked his face into my shoulder and cried. I held him as she turned back to look. I glared at her. I wondered what she felt for Jake. I didn't really care what she felt for me. One day she will realize that Jake needed to stop being the object of his father's rage, or prejudice, or bullshit, or whatever, and that only one person was really going to rescue him.
"Aaron?" he said, looking up at my eyes.
"I'm glad you told Daniel to bring you to me."
"I had no place to go."
"You could have told him to take you to the hospital, or to the police, or to a neighbor's house, or to his parent's house. I was at least fifth in line."
"They would have fixed me up and taken me home again."
"You would have done just what you did -- took me to the hospital, gotten someone to see me, taken care of Daniel at the same time, brought us both home, and helped keep me safe all night. No one else would have gotten me away from my father. I can't afford to be out on my own yet."
"Someone would have helped you."
"No one did. I've been abused verbally, physically, and ..."
He cut off his statement.
"And ...? I asked. Sexually?"
"The bastard!" I fumed. "He raped you?!"
Another nod. "To teach me a lesson. To prove it was disgusting and that it would hurt. He tore me up. He would sneak in during the middle of the night, while I was sleeping, and crush my balls. He took a sharp knife and made a narrow incision at the base of my dick. He said he'd mutilate me worse if I didn't denounce my homosexuality."
"How long did he terrorize you?"
"For almost a year. But I loved Daniel, even though Daniel didn't know. I came close to doing what he said. He'd cut off my dick in a heartbeat. That's when you came into my life. You're the only one who cared."
"No one else knew. I wouldn't have unless I noticed your bruises. Even then you basically told me to get away."
"I was stupid."
"No, you were scared. You didn't know you could trust me. What if . . ."
"'What if' doesn't matter, Aaron. You saved my life."
"Daniel saved your life."
"Daniel brought me to you. You took me away from my parents."
"Stop." He put his hand over my mouth. "You brought me home. To your home .. our home. I'm safe now, Don't argue."
Jeez, and I thought I was stubborn.
We got up and walked once around the first level of the mall, took the stairs to the second level, walked around one complete loop, and then went out to the car. It took a few minutes to warm it up sufficiently. I shivered from the cold. I watched Jake. His future seemed so uncertain, but only to him.
Which brings me back to the beginning, to Jake wanting to ask me his question.
"Aaron, could you adopt me?"
"Legally? I don't think so. You're past adoption age and I doubt your parents would allow it."
He was disappointed. He turned away and looked down at the floor.
"Don't give up on me, Jake. You got something else you want to ask. I know you would have expected `I can't' as an answer."
He turned to face me. I was right, he had thought about it. I didn't know what he wanted to say, but he was afraid I'd say no again. It came out more of a whisper, but he held eye contact.
"Would you be my dad?"
A incredible warmth swept through my body.
"Yes, love. I'd like to be your dad."
He smiled ear to ear, and his beautiful eyes lit up.
"Really? But I'm ..."
It was my turn to shush him. I put my fingers over his lips.
"I brought you home. You're safe now. Don't argue," I said, not mocking him, just echoing back what he had told me, affirming that he was right.
"But I'm gay, Aaron. Do you really want a ..."
"If you say faggot I'll slap you."
"Stop. If you really love Daniel, there is nothing wrong with you being in love."
"I do love Daniel."
"Did you tell him today?"
"Did you mean it, in here?" I said, touching his chest, over his heart.
"And what do you think about me? Aren't I a fag too?"
"For loving Andrew?"
"Of course not."
"Then why are you?"
He didn't have an answer.
"Am I a fag because I love you too?"
"No. But that's different."
"You're my Aaron. I want you to take care of me."
"I want to take care of you too, Jake, forever."
"I don't know how long that is. I still got leukemia you know. Maybe I won't make it."
"Maybe you will."
"Aaron's perfect world. Jake lives, happily ever after. But you don't know."
"I'm not letting you go."
"You might have to. You had to let Andrew go."
He did not say it cruelly. He spoke the truth. I pulled him into my arms. That thought frightened me time and time again. I had done everything I could for Andrew. And yes, I had to let him go because I had no choice. It was so unfair. But I let only his body go. I have his heart within me. Is Jake another incarnation of Andrew?
To lose Jake. I couldn't. It would be too cruel. He wanted to be my son. Couldn't I finally have something just for me? Would the higher power, or powers, be so against me that I couldn't have something for longer than a year? I was married only a year, almost to the day. I had Andrew for almost a year. There was history before both, but the real deal lasted only a year. I closed my eyes as I held Jake. I was going to love him, even if my history of loving someone said that they died. I deserved this too, didn't I?
"I am not letting you go, Jake. I love you very much. I'm going to take care of you. I've already told you what I think about here and now."
"Yeah -- live in the moment. You already know how to do that. I don't. I'm scared I'll die. I don't know how to handle being sick, not like you seem to know."
"I'll teach you."
"You can't teach someone not to be scared of dying."
Jake was very bright. But Jake also had some things to learn about me.
"I'd be more afraid that you won't live."
He had to think about that. The difference was like night and day. Personally, I'm not afraid of dying. I could have peace for once. But I'm terrified I won't live. I told him that and he understood.
"Are you going to make me climb a tree?"
I smiled at him. I put my left arm across his shoulders, my right hand on the back of his head, and tucked him into my neck.
"No. You'll do it on your own, some day. It's part of living. It's about being curious."
"Why do you love me? My own parents don't."
"Love is supposed to be unconditional. No one should care if you're gay. They should care only that you are a good man, and that you need love. Because you need to know what it feels like to be loved."
"I don't, yet, except a hint of it. I hope I will. Why else?"
"Because you're sick, and you've been hurt."
"And? Why else?"
"Because you remind me of my Andrew."
"Don't be sorry. Sorry is what you say to someone when you can't say anything else. You can't control how you look, except for hair cut or facial hair. Your face is young and sweet. You have the eyes of the only man I've loved so deeply. When I look at you, I'm missing Andrew a little less. It doesn't hurt so much."
"I hope I know what love like that feels like some day."
"You will. Daniel loves you very much you know."
"Yeah I know. He's not afraid to tell me either. They aren't just words. He looks me in the eyes and he doesn't flinch. He holds me like I'm the most important thing in his life."
"But he's not the most important thing in mine."
I was surprised to hear that.
"He knows that, too. I told him. He didn't take it as a flaw in his character. He understands how I feel about you. I already told Daniel I would ask you to be my dad."
"What would it take for you to really be my son?"
He said it immediately. He had obviously been waiting for me to ask the question.
"Nah. Jake is a far better name than Aaron."
"You silly." He touched my cheek, looked at my eyes. "I want your last name. It's a good name. I am proud of your name. You've given honor to who you are. I don't want mine anymore. Mine means nothing to me, except a cruel joke.
"But I think that goes back to me being able to adopt you."
"I don't care about legally. Screw the law -- I'm talking about who I am now. I want to be your son, with your name, so that people know who I am, with pride."
He stopped and took a deep breath.
"My father is dead as far as I'm concerned. My mom would take her birth name back if she divorced my father. The family tree dies then. I couldn't care less. I don't care if the law will let me be your legal son. You are my dad. You already have been a better dad to me than I've known in over a year. Please? I want to be James Langille."
I don't know what it would take. We couldn't just say he was now someone else. His social security number was tied to his old name. His school records, his driver's license, his credit, insurance, car payment, registration, parent's insurance, benefits from work . . . Argh, it was so daunting. One more time I called the judge.
"It could take a few weeks. It won't be an adoption, formally, you understand."
"Yeah, I know. But it's important to Jake."
I told him why. He gave me the name of an attorney he trusted. She specialized in family law and would do what she could, with no promises. We waited. She called me with progress updates or questions. Jake and I met with her in her office. It was still harder than I had expected. Jake had only wanted my name. What stood in the way was paper. Jake's father resisted. Pfffft, it was so stupid. Jake's mom added fuel to the fire, for our side thankfully, by filing divorce papers. It put the end to the paternal arguments that were anything but sincere. The judge was prepared to show the evidence he had on file if necessary. It was a plausible threat; legal or not.
The lady attorney called me in the afternoon. She wanted to see Jake and me, soon if she could. I told her we would be there within the hour. I called Jake at work and asked him to meet me at home. I called Jeff to get a ride early. I wasn't driving on my own yet because of my still healing leg.
Jake and I stood before the attorney. She handed me a document to read. I looked at Jake. I read some more and looked back at him. He didn't say anything. He was shaking a little. I read the document to the end. I signed it. I gave it to Jake. He read it, looked at me, still shaking. He finished reading it. He signed it. Jeff was asked to come in and witness our signatures. He too signed it.
We waited. We checked the mail every day, and waited some more. It was agonizing. He was scared. I was afraid for him. I held on to him for a few nights because he could not sleep. The only thing he ever wanted, really wanted, in his young life, hung on a piece of paper.
"I know, love. I know."
Two weeks, two and a half weeks.
We went through chemo together. He worked. I worked. We waited. We held each other, hoping for a simple name change agreement.
Three weeks. 22 days. 23 days. 24 days . . .
Four weeks. A full month.
And then the mail came.
Jake cried. And I cried with him.
We got Jake registered for his next semester at school. We had driven two hours to his new college. He would live with Jeff's folks nearby so he wouldn't have to worry about living on campus. He didn't want the expense, or for me to take it on either. He thought I was already doing enough for him financially. He would help by working on campus, or nearby. He figures it would make him do better in classes. He let me help too. It's part of being someone he loved.
I stood beside him while a lady helped us fill out the paperwork. I gave her my Visa check card to pay his tuition.
"Is this your son?" she asked, smiling pleasantly, looking at the beautiful eyed boy.
"Yes ma'am. He is," I said as I put my arm across his back. We looked at each other and smiled.
Yes he is my son. Morally. Legally. Legally adopted. My son, by law. He now could have a name he would honor -- my name. Jake had not known that until the day the mail arrived. Neither had I, though I wished so very hard. I had filed an addendum to the name change application, without Jake knowing. The attorney worked very hard for me -- for us. We had talked at length one late afternoon, into the evening. The judge had been present, at my request, as a judge and as a friend. He had called in a favor to make the adoption final.
James Langille. He would have my name and my love for all his life. And I would finally, after 45 years and 11 months, have a son.