Jake – Part 6
After the mail arrived, I called Jeff and then Matt. I asked them to come over for dinner and to bring the wives. We would cook from whatever was in the pantry or the freezer. I told them I had news -- big news, important news.
Ginny and Matt arrived with a load of pasta and chicken. Kellie and Jeff arrived with veggies and dessert. The kitchen was a madhouse. My galley style kitchen is right beside the main entrance hall, to the right as you come through the front door. It's about 4 feet wide, excluding counters, and about 10 feet long. Joe sat in his wheelchair in the dining room and laughed at us, knowing wisely to stay out of the chaos. Jake and Daniel manned the microwave or loaded stuff into the dishwasher. The girls were at the stove. Jeff was at one counter. I was at the sink. Mattie was at the other counter.
They wanted hints of what the news was. I wasn't telling. Joe knew because I wanted to explain it to him. He understood fully. I wasn't sure he would because I still, wrongfully, underestimated his capacity to understand. He knew and retained info that Jake was abused at home and he would not go home any more. He told me I done good. I told him it was a surprise, that no one else knew yet. He kept it to himself.
Daniel didn't know yet, to my surprise. I was sure Jake would have at least given a hint, other than telling him of his intention weeks ago. Jake said Daniel would have to wait, because this was a surprise for all our friends and should be told to all at once. I had not told anyone else because I was so afraid I'd jinx it. Jake had thought we were doing a simple name change. I had filed the amendment without telling him because I didn't want to be a source of disappointment. Enough was enough for him.
After the meal was made and eaten, and after we cleaned up, we gathered in the living room. Jake sat in front of the patio door with Joe and Daniel. The gang of 4 sat on the sofa. Dramatic Yanni music was playing on the CD, appropriate for the mood. I sat with my legs crossed in front of the entertainment center.
"First of all, what I have to say has been a secret for five weeks. I don't like keeping secrets, but I didn't have a choice. I had to wait for something and I was half-convinced it would not work. But it has worked.
"A few weeks ago, Jake asked me something very important. It rocked me, both fearfully and deep into my heart. My first response to his question was no, because I knew it wouldn't happen, not in the way he intended. Then he asked me the question in a different way, something a little easier to manage."
I was looking at a room full of curious people, teasing them I guess, for they had no clue yet.
"So we pursued it together. And then I took it one step further, without Jake's knowledge. If it hadn't worked, the first step at least would have. That part Jeff knows about, but I swore him to secrecy even then. I didn't want any trouble or any jinxes, bad vibes or voodoo omens. I didn't want to get anyone's hopes up and then dash them. It was enough that I would have to live with a terrible disappointment. I was too scared. But it did work ... five weeks after the fact. Today the mail brought us great news."
I held up an oversized envelope and pulled out a legal document.
"Ginny, Mattie, Kellie, Daniel. Joe already knows, but has been sworn to hold my secret a little while longer. Thank you, Jeff-boy, for doing your share, even though you don't know about this part. Come on over, Jake."
Jake scooted over to me, in front of me. I put my hand on his shoulder.
"Our young friend is now, on this day and forever more, officially . . ."
I stopped. I waited, looking at 6 people, one by one. Jake looked up at me, smiling. I hugged him from behind with both my arms.
" . . . James Langille. My son. I have legally adopted him."
"HURRAY!!!!! Wooo-hooo!!! Way to go, Aaron!! Awesome news!!
The living room went nuts. Jake was pulled to his feet and hugged by a mob of five people. Then it was my turn to be pulled up. Not a dry eye in the house. Daniel looked over at me with so much pride. He gave me a long hug and said "Good on you, Old Man. That is sooo sweet."
Joe looked up, patiently. When things settled down a little, Jake went over and picked Joe up. Joe put his arms around Jake's neck so he could stand. Jake held on to him tightly so Joe could hug him back. He thanked him for being quiet about our surprise.
"Jake. Aaron's young boy now. I'm very glad, Jake. You deserve to be loved too. No more bad."
Jake put him down gently in his wheelchair and then kissed him on his forehead.
"Thank you Jake. I'm happy for you. When Aaron loves you, all is right. Know what I mean?"
"I do, Joe. I promise I won't take anything away from you. Aaron loves you very much. You know that, right?"
"He can love me and he can love you too. Your dad's heart is so big."
I heard that. `Your dad'. It echoed through my head.
"I have to go home for a few minutes. I'll be back, okay?" said Jeff to us all.
He was up to something, obviously. Home was 20 to 25 minutes each way. Kellie, of course, knew what he was going to do. She just smiled. Inscrutable woman.
We talked and listened to music. My friends knew all about Jake. No one cared about the things they had no business to care about. Andrew and Joe had been accepted as friends as special as all of us. Jake was treated the same way. Well, that's not right. Jake was treated a bit more special because he was young and because he was abused. He deserved to be loved a little more. Daniel was given equal attention. He was not a distant part of this circle of friends. He fit in, was well liked, and loved being part of this.
Forty-five minutes later, Jeff returned. He carried two bottles of champagne under his arm as he came through the door.
"We were saving this for when the baby arrived, but we can buy more. The liquor store isn't open this late, so I had to go home. Aaron and Jake, come on over. Mattie, will you help me pour?"
We returned to the dining room table. Eight glasses were poured. Eight glasses were raised.
Toasts were made. There were some standouts.
"To my Aaron, for having no fear. To our Jake, for wanting love, and getting what he deserves," said Joe. I was impressed.
"To a young man who knows all about love; giving and taking. To the kindest most beautiful man on the planet. You rock, Aaron-Dad," said Daniel. He brought tears to my eyes.
We drank to our happiness and love. Jake stepped forward.
"My turn, if it's okay. To you all for the love of friends and family. I am constantly amazed and pleased by you all. Thank you for caring so much. And to the man I will always love, always respect, and always treasure, with all my heart. Thank you for rescuing me, for loving me so ... ".
He couldn't continue. He just held on to me and toasted my glass.
"Wow. I can't top that." I looked at Ginny and Mattie, Kellie and Jeff. "To you each for long friendship, through thick and thin. Through the lowest lows and today's highest high of my life. Thank you each one, for the love. Thank you for accepting Jake."
I touched each glass as I spoke to them. Then I went over to hug Daniel.
"Thank you, dear Daniel, unofficial but ever beloved son #2, for bringing our boy to me. You saved a wonderful life. And you saved mine, too, because you have given me something that no one else could do – a son, for real. Bless you, love."
I touched his glass and gave him another hug.
"To Joey for letting Jake be part of our family, for accepting him as a good friend, and for allowing Daniel into our lives too. We're pretty lucky, right?"
"We are, Aaron. You touch things that turn to gold," said Joe.
He made me smile. I looked around at who was here. 1993 was when I met Joe, and his Andrew. 1994 was when the gang of 4 came into my life. How blessed could I be. Five months ago I met Jake. The blessing went off the scale. A few weeks later I met Daniel, because of the worst night in Jake's young life. Jake rose out of the fire like a Phoenix.
"To James Langille!" came a rousing cheer from the gang of 4.
"And to his Dad," cheered them all.
The highest of highs, for all my life. Today was the best that it had been in a long lifetime.
I thought about Jason, a young man neighbor. Another God blessed special person. I'd forgotten to include him. He too was family, since he was about 14 I think, about 8 years ago. He lived in my neighborhood. He was going to be with Doc again when school ended for the summer. Jason was the basketball player turned doctor wannabe who was going to cure my cancer. I had to send him a note, to bring him up to date. Jake and Jason knew about each other, but hadn't met yet.
* The pond
* The tree
I wrote those two lines above as notes, reminders to tell you that I took Jake there. Daniel had to work so he didn't make it this time, but I would show him my two favorite spots too.
Jake and I walked for 40 minutes. Hiked is more like it. The pond is not an easy access point. That's one reason I like it. As we walked there I told Jake that this is where I come when I want to be alone, to think about me only, and to make decisions that I have to be okay with. Remember in one of my journals that I have to have a discussion with God about the miracle of timing in meeting Jake? Well, now I understand. I had come to the pond one day to consider what I wanted, and what I wanted was not to take a new kidney if it became available. I even wanted to chuck chemo because it was too much sickness for so little gain.
Jake has changed that decision, forever. I still may not make it, but at least I have a reason to keep going. Jason is also very sincere in what he said about curing my cancer. So that's two reasons. On top of several hundred more, that I would have unfairly left behind.
I had a backpack with the standard supplies – day old bread for the ducks and a bag of apples for a doe. Jake had read about my exploits with them. Matt and Jeff had both witnessed it, unbelievably. Jake and I were coming here to spend time alone, finally, but I also wanted to share my `talent', if it could be called that.
We sat at the edge of the pond, bundled up tightly against the cold. I sat behind him and he sat between my legs. I put bread pieces all around us. Before long, the ducks were out of the water, eating the bread. Instead of returning to the water, they all settled down around us, close to us.
Jake turned his head around to stare at me. He was amazed. I put a finger up to my lips.
"They'll stay here as long as we don't move suddenly and scare them. They've known me a long time. I feed them and then they keep me company. It's just how it has always been, after a little effort of course. They trust me. They also trust who I bring."
"I understand the trust. But this is still amazing."
We sat for an hour, talking softly only occasionally. I held Jake and we enjoyed the fresh air and view from across the pond. There were only a few clouds. The cold light of February shown from them. The water stood still as glass. The pastures went on forever. We could see a small village between them.
"Stand up carefully, but don't move away yet," I told him.
He stood first, slowly. I then stood and held him again from behind. I pointed out things to him across the pond. I knew every detail by heart. The ducks stirred a little, but settled back down again immediately. I directed him around them. None of them moved. They just tucked their heads back into their wings. Jake stood in amazement. I walked him to the far edge of the clearing. I walked to the middle, dumped out half the bag of apples, and then joined him. We sat against a tree, quietly. He didn't see the doe, so I pointed her out.
"Oh my. I've never seen a deer up close."
"Very quietly. She'll come to the clearing, so don't move. She would be easy to spook."
We watched patiently. It was about 10 minutes before she came out from her hiding spot. She looked right at me. She ate quietly and slowly. Jake was even more amazed. He started to shift his weight but I held him in place. I told him to move ever so slowly if he had to. He listened to me. He turned his head to me again.
"Wow. I had to see this to believe it. Jeff and Mattie said it was a sight to behold. How do you do this?"
"Trust. I leave her alone and respect the distance. Same as you, when I respect your privacy. It's common sense. It took me a few months to get her to come out without running away quickly. I've spent up to an hour in her company before."
"And the baby? What do you call it?"
"Fawn. I haven't seen it for a while. It's either left her or is in hiding nearby. I don't know how long they stay together. Remind me that we have some research when we get home."
"I'm loving this. We're what, twenty feet away?"
"Something like that. A little more maybe. Cool huh?"
"Oh yeah. Will she eat them all?"
"Yeah, if her fawn isn't around. If it is, she'll go back and bring it out."
We watched. I moved quietly and carefully behind him again and held on. I put my arms around his chest, over his shoulders, and he held on to my arms. He leaned his head back on my shoulder.
"Yeah. Can I sleep a little while?"
"Sure. I love you, Kid."
"I love you, Dad. Thanks for bringing me here. I didn't mean to get sleepy on you."
"No worries. I'll be right here when you wake up. Can I hold you?"
I smiled to myself. Jake loved to be held. I held him the way I liked being held; left arm around his stomach, right hand on his heart, holding tightly. He was safe. I would probably doze a little too. It had been a long hike. Chemo was only three days past and aftershocks still happened. I was glad he felt he could rest with me.
I think I dozed only a few minutes. I couldn't tell because I didn't have my watch. I heard a sound in the clearing. The baby deer had come out from its hiding spot. Momma had saved a few apples. She knew I would leave the other half before we left. She stood watching over her baby as I sat watching over mine. He was still as needful as the fawn, and about as innocent.
I woke Jake so he could see.
"You can go back to sleep, but take a look over there."
His sleepy eyes saw the fawn instantly. His instinct was to sit up but I held him in place.
"Careful, love. You don't want to spook her."
"Wow," he whispered softly. He turned his head back to look at me. His eyes shown bright and happy. I kissed him on his forehead.
We watched as the fawn ate a few of the apples then went to stand beside it's mom. They watched us. I wondered if they knew Jake was my baby. Probably not, but that wouldn't make it different. Momma sniffed the air. She knew my scent, and my scent mixed with Jake's, so she would be okay with us there, keeping our distance. I wouldn't try to get closer. She would run and never come back. They gave us one last look and then wandered slowly back to the woods. I waited about 15 minutes before getting up.
"Sit tight, love. I have more apples to leave her. I'll be right back."
I put the rest of the apples in the clearing and picked up the cores of the ones that were eaten, from the clearing. I would show them to the crew. They would know it was a good journey today. When I returned, I was putting the last of the apple cores in the plastic bag, back into my backpack.
"Are you ready to start heading back?"
"We got about 20 minutes north yet. We'll be about 2 miles from home by then."
Jake stood and slipped his arms around my waist. He didn't say anything, just looked at me. Then he kissed me on the forehead. We stood and held each other for a few minutes. He didn't need to say anything to me, nor me to him. We knew. We walked hand in hand, letting go only long enough to climb over large rocks or tree stumps. Reminds me of my dad when I was a little boy, walking all over the place with him holding my hand.
In a while we stood wide open pasture. "Wow! Is that what I think it is?!" exclaimed Jake.
We were within a quarter mile of a magnificent 60-foot tree. The leaves were gone, so it stood naked against the cold February sky. We walked up to the base.
"Oh my!! You and Jeff climbed that?! I'd be scared out of my mind Aar, uh, Dad."
"You can call me Aaron, Jake. I won't be offended."
"It feels so odd. I'm your boy now. You should be Dad."
"I am your dad, from here ... to here, my heart to your heart, your heart to mine."
"I'm scared. What if . . ."
"We already decided `what if' doesn't matter, love. Enjoy the moment we're in. This is very special to me. I have you in my life, and you're forever mine. It doesn't get any better."
"To me too. I love you so much. I don't want you to lose me. I don't want to lose you; I've barely just found you."
"I already told you, baby, I'm not letting you go."
He believed me. But believing didn't take away the fear. I would teach him to be thankful for the moment. Tomorrow was forever. It didn't count. We had right now, and it would be enough.
I looked up at the tree. It seemed more challenging now that it was bare. Leaves at least hid some of the height. Even half-way up was pretty daunting.
"I want to climb," I said looking at him.
"It's too tall," said Jake fearfully.
"Not to the top, love. No more than half way. You don't have to. I'll never make you do anything you don't want. I've already done it, so I have no fear."
"Yeah, like how you conduct your life. I'm convinced you're not afraid of anything."
"If I started listing what I was afraid of, I'd be scared. But I'm not afraid of the tree."
"Broken collarbone? Your leg broken in two places?"
He looked up at the tree. Oh God it was sooo tall. He was looking to the top, scared. I moved behind him. I pointed with my left arm, holding him with my right, lowering his sights.
"You see where I'm pointing?"
"Yeah, big fat branch at the bottom, about twelve feet up."
"Twelve foot isn't so high. See the thick branch higher up, about there?" I said as I moved his finger higher. "That's what did Jeff and me in."
He looked at me, then back at the tree, and back at me.
"I'll help you. First branch, that's all."
He had to think about it. He looked at me, eye to eye, and he didn't flinch.
"Then we can't do it. You'll get hurt. No fear, or it's not fun. You do only what you want to, never any more."
He didn't want to let me down. He couldn't. He could let me down only if he was stupid. Being afraid means you're being smart. It'll protect you.
"Let me show you, for next time maybe."
"Come touch the tree."
To his credit he didn't make me feel that I said something stupid. He knew what I meant.
"It's big. The roots must be as deep as it is tall. It's so strong. How old do you think it is?"
"Eighty, ninety years maybe. Not much more. But not too much less either. You see the dark spots? It's where I get a handhold so I can pull up. You okay with watching me?"
He stepped back. I had to be careful because even now I didn't have all my strength back in my shoulder. I found two indentations not too far apart and used them to pull myself up, using my feet to hold me steady.
"You look like Spiderman, Aaron. I didn't know my dad was a tree hugger!"
"Don't make me laugh, love," I said giggling. I couldn't look back to him. I could picture what he meant. "I never looked at it that way. "
I found two more places to hold on. I was about two feet from the branch. I climbed a little higher, slowly, putting my feet into the lower indentations. No it wasn't easy. It took all my concentration and my strength. This had been easier without healing bones to worry about.
I grabbed for the fat branch and pulled myself into it. I was sweating like crazy. I sat for a moment, and then stood up, holding on to the enormous trunk of the tree.
"You sure you're not a teenager in an old guy's body?"
"What do you mean `old guy'. I didn't know you were an old man in a kid's body."
He flipped me the bird. I laughed out loud. No respect for an old guy.
The rest of the branches were easy from here. I could have gone higher. I wanted to see if he'd come this far with me.
"Wanna try it?"
"Will you say something nice at my funeral?"
He looked up at me and laughed.
"Jake? Only if you're ready. It's got to be no fear, love."
"I think I can do it. I saw what you did. It's okay."
"Slow and easy. If you get scared, you have to back off, okay?"
"Okay. I'm coming up."
He looked for the handholds and used them. He used his strong legs. Better yet, he used his brain. He got a little more courage as he got the next set of handholds. He held where he was for a moment. He reached higher, then moved his right foot up, left hand, left foot.
"Do you want my hand?"
I reached down to him.
"Slowly, love. There's one more handhold to your right. See the one for your foot?"
"Yeah. Don't let me go."
"You're there, love. Little more."
I scooted over on the branch and made room for him. He worked his way onto the branch, chest first, then hips, then got seated, his back to the trunk.
"Welcome to my world, love. You did it."
"We did it. You showed me. You knew I could."
"Faith. Courage. The only stuff of life worth living."
He smiled. He put his right arm around my waist. Our legs dangled. He caught his breath and I held him. He looked at me.
"You're awesome. I would never do this before. My father wouldn't ..."
He stopped then looked away.
"I'm sorry. You don't compare to my father. You're so different. So much more special."
"What `used to be' doesn't matter, Jake. Your future is not behind you."
"Keep reminding me. Please? You're what matters to me. Don't let me compare you to anyone else. You're not like anyone else that I've ever met."
"I love you, Jake."
He kissed me on my cheek. "I love you too, Dad. I know now that I always will. This is awesome. Thanks for letting me do this, for teaching me how."
I looked up higher, teasingly, and then smiled back at him.
"If you can, I can. Not today, but some day."
We sat together for another hour, looking around, being close, holding on to each other. He held on to the trunk and stood up. He looked around. Including his height, his eye level was 14 feet off the ground.
The breeze whipped up a little. We could smell the tree and the surrounding area. The pines brought a fresh scent to our noses. The coldness smelled clean. But it was also getting a little raw.
"Okay, silly question, but how do we get down?"
"Hang from the branch and drop."
"Seriously. Stop fooling around."
"Okay. Hang from the branch and drop."
"No. A little math. The branch is twelve feet up. How tall are you, including arms over your head."
"Ummm, over eight feet I guess. Awwww geez, you telling me it's that easy?"
I got onto my belly, hung on to the tree with both arms, swung down, and dropped easily to the ground.
"Easy as that."
He repeated what his old man had just done.
"Why did you make me do it the hard way, going up I mean?"
"Because next time you won't be afraid."
"This is why you're my Dad."
"Yeah. Ready to go home?"
He nodded. I took his hand again and we hiked for about 10 minutes, and then walked on rolling slope for about 10 more.
When we came through the door, Mattie sniffed the air.
"You been in the tree. Both of you?"
"Piece a cake," said Jake, grinning ear to ear.
I looked at Mattie and laughed. Jake went to his room to get clean clothes and headed into the bathroom to shower.
"He loves you, you know," said Mattie.
"He trusts me, too. We got `no fear' today."
"Yeah. Been there/done that. I know the lesson. You must have climbed up the hard way."
"Of course. It'll be easier next time. Then he can see his thoughts forever, just like we do."
"I love my boy. Easy as that."
It was a mere four days later that I had lost the feeling in my legs, while at work. My legs just dropped out from existence under me. My office friend called Jeff. Jeff called Doc. Doc had me brought to the hospital in Washington, DC right away.
When Doc saw me at the hospital the next morning, he called his home. He had Claire hold the phone up to the answering machine and play back a message.
This was a message on Doc's home answering machine that first night.
"Hi Dad. I know you're not home yet. I hope Doc can save this message though. Thank you, Doc, for taking care of Aaron ... for taking care of my dad. Hmmm, I think I'm still getting used to that. My dad. Wow. That's so nice."
He sucked in his breath. He cried for a moment, but got himself back in order. Jeff's mom and pop would have been there with him. They would take good care of him.
"Ummm, I won't worry. He hates that. I trust you, Doc. And Mrs. Doc. (Jake didn't feel right in calling her Claire). I won't worry. Honest. You mean the world to me, Aaron. You proved again that you know what you're doing and that you're not afraid of anything. I'll call when I know you're home again. (Long pause) I love you Daddy."
He sounded so young, so innocent. `Daddy' was a long time in coming. 15 years ... I've heard `daddy' in my tortured dreams from out of my past. I never expected to hear it for real.
I looked at Doc as I listened. My eyes watered up quickly. Doc asked me if I heard it clearly. Claire came back on the line.
"Did you hear it?"
"Yeah. Ummm, I'm all chocked up. Can you save it?"
"Yes. The answering machine is digital, so it's saved. I know you'll want to hear it `in person'."
"Thank you, Claire. Maybe I can come home soon."
"You can. We're waiting for you."
She was so sweet. Claire was jealous of me for only one reason; that I met Doc before she did. I tell her that she was worth the difference in time. They had two very beautiful children together, Louisa and Andy Jr. Yes, Doc's real name is Andrew. He was Andrew, Andy, or Drew to everyone except me. To me he was always Doc.
We've known each other from the first few months of me being diagnosed with cancer. I went on a search for someone who would give me more than frickin' "6 to 8 months" to live. How I resented doctors who played God because they had NO damn clue of what I was made of. Maybe I've survived just to thumb my nose at them. But then again, that's taking credit away from a man so loving and so caring and so hard working as Doc.
So anyway, I lay in the hospital, not feeling my legs, but happy. My Jake loved me. All would be right with the world soon enough.