Jake Part 7 -- Lessons for Jake
Watching Jake day to day brings me joy. This included way before, during, and after becoming Jake's Dad. I used the capital D on purpose. Normally that would not be proper grammar. It's a title I wear very proudly. A few friends have said they like that I'm his father. "Father" is a cool word except to Jake. Father, to him, means cruel, brutal punishment. He said anyone can be a father ... but not everyone can be a Dad.
So, I'm Jakes' Dad -- not his father.
Just so Jake has some sense of timeline, this is being written on Monday, April 15, 2002. It is about 1:30 a.m., way before dawn.
He told me he is going to save these journals. He's shared each one with Daniel so far. The journals have been around the world. Lots of people say `keep writing!'. They want to know Jake, By the way, that includes Jake. He likes my perspective on him. I teased him and told him that Jake 6 was the end of the journal series, because we were pretty much caught up to date. I couldn't see his face because we were on the phone, but I could tell he was bummed. So, not to worry love, there is more.
Who is the young man that I loved enough to bring into my home? His sense of humor is perfect. He loves to be a troublemaker, in the way I like it, not be a real troublemaker. He is Daniel's love; not `lover', which I find to be throwaway in nature. Men (and women, few lesbians that I know) where `my ex' like a badge of honor. He is my son, born of need, love, compassion without end.
This is the expression that I know better than any other. To me, this is Jake at his best, the real deal. He's a deep thinker. He likes his quiet time. Even with a crowd of friends around, he can take himself away. I know I teach him a lot, but that's one thing I would love for him to teach me.
I have a picture of Andrew, in black and white, that is something like a color picture I have of Jake. Pop took it, watching and waiting until he saw Jake alone. I wish I had a date. It's taken on one of Jake's off-chemo cycles, so he looks okay. I look at him and I have to constantly ask myself how someone could viciously abuse him. I look at him and want to hold him in my arms so bad. I don't understand how he could be abused repeatedly. To have this boy as my son is the crowning achievement of my life, yet he came to me one night in November with a bruised face and black eye, and a broken arm. I could scream at the insanity of that.
There is nothing in my life that would let me beat a boy like this. My most basic instinct would be to protect him from anything bad, to talk to him, to listen to him, and to love him dearly. I would have to be a psychopath to walk into his bedroom one or two nights a week, for weeks on end, wake him out of a sound sleep, beat the living shit out of him, degrade him with name calling, and then walk away, leaving him bloody or swollen or broken. I would have to be the most unfeeling person on the face of the Earth to ambush him in the upstairs hallway, to try to push him down the stairs. Yet that's what happened when he was living in his parent's house. If he didn't go home, it would be twice as bad. He spent one night sleeping in the garage, hiding. His father wailed on him like he'd been missing for a week. The longer he hid or stayed away, the worse the violent thrashings, exponentially.
To make Jake dread every moment of his life is cruel. It was enough he had to find out he had leukemia.
"How did you find out, love. What made you go to the doctor?"
"My mom told me I was pale all the time. She wondered if I was anemic. I wouldn't eat when my father was home. I was nauseous, but I wrote that off to my nerves. I was on edge so much. I had to keep my guard up all the time. I had headaches every day, even after I took something for them. Again I thought that was my father because he slammed my head into the walls. He'd strike out of nowhere, when I thought he wasn't even home. Aches in my bones was the worst of it. I wondered if he had broken anything, so I went to my doctor for a physical."
"I'd hate to think what would have happened if you wrote it all off as your father. Your type of leukemia progresses very fast. So the doc did blood work?"
"Bone marrow?" I said, knowing, pulling my arms up and wrapping them around me. Please say `no' I thought to myself. Bone marrow aspirations were pure dread to me. I couldn't fathom Jake having to have even one. I could feel my face and my eyes becoming sad in a heartbeat.
"Four in all, over 10 days."
I shivered uncontrollably. I knelt and puked violently, shockingly sudden. He didn't know that I dreaded a bone marrow worse than the end of the world. He knelt beside me, looked at me and then touched my face.
"You know what that's like. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean . . ."
"No love, I'm just appalled at all the cruelty you've seen in a year's time. How awful. It's not right."
"And what happens to you is?"
I didn't say anything. I knew how to handle my `stuff'. He didn't. He was too young. I remember what it's like to be young and fighting something that wanted my life.
He loves me as much as I love him. That's saying a lot, because he looks at me like no one else exists. He can't love me more, and I can't love him more. The level we're at is not typical of father/son. But I'm not his father. I'm more -- his confidant, holder of understanding of all that is painful and frightening with cancer, his namesake, and the man with honkin' steel cannolies.
We talk to each other almost every night. His last words, always, are "I love you daddy." He doesn't say them out of habit. He waits until we've said everything we want to say to each other. There will be a long moment where neither of us say anything. Then, plain as day, "I love you daddy." Sometimes his voice cracks. I've had a lump the size of Texas in my throat.
I could never not want to hear that. And it makes me understand what happened to him less and less. There is no reason to throw away a young man like this, like he was last night's garbage.
I promise you, James Langille, you will never EVER be hurt again, and I will love you until time swallows itself whole.
He's the first thing I think about each morning. He's practically the only thing I think about all day. He's the last thing I think about at night. I know when he's getting up (Mom Christian says he's very disciplined, sick from chemo or not), when he's in classes, when he's working, and when he's home studying. I know when he goes for a walk by himself. I know when he's thinking about me because I can feel him. If you don't believe I can, you don't understand love between Jake and me.
"How do you do that!?" he asked one night when I called, surprised at my timing.
"I was thinking about you not two minutes ago!"
"You touched my heart."
"You're a dreamer."
"No, I love my son very much."
End of discussion. Jake is speechless. Dad wins again.
It's not the point to leave him speechless, or me `winning'. Well, maybe sometimes. He is to know, daily, and with no doubt, that he is on my mind, in my heart, and loved absolutely.
April 15, 2002, dawn.
We were walking around campus that day that the lady in the registration office asked if Jake was my son. He knew I paid his tuition on the spot.
"Why did you do that?"
"So you won't have to worry about anything."
"What better way to spend it?"
"I know, but that's a lot of money. You already paid legal fees to adopt me, and you bought me things for Christmas. You feed me, and buy me clothes. You pay half of my car payment. You paid for my car registration and my state inspection. I'm not giving you a whole lot back in return."
"Yes you are."
"Not financially. It's not fair."
"Stop a moment. Look at me, love. It's very fair. You don't have to struggle to work two jobs and burn the midnight oil and still end up taking summer classes. Been there/done that -- and it was okay for me because I learned a lot. My pop couldn't afford to put me through college. I'll never be rich, but you'll know I came by the money honestly. I got a good job. I want you to have a life that your father would have denied you. "
"You are my boy. I love you with all my heart. There are things I will do for you, without question."
He didn't say anything. He just looked at me with sad eyes.
"I love you, Jake. Money won't prove it. I have to let who I am speak for me."
"You do. I know who you are. I learn something new about you every day. Some day I will pay you back."
"If you bring home good grades, you will have done enough."
"I'm not an A student."
"Neither was I."
"What's `good grades'? What did your parents make you do?"
"C or better, in every class, is my idea of good grades. My parents didn't make me do anything. They asked, nicely, for C or better because they figured I was at least paying attention. Neither one graduated from high school, so their expectations were that I would, and that I'd show some sense of understanding."
"I will bring home no worse than five B's then."
"Don't make a promise you can't keep."
"It's a promise I can keep."
"If you get into trouble, you can call me."
"Not if I want five B's."
He smiled at me. And then he grinned like a smartass kid. His smile makes you smile -- no matter what mood you're in. It lights up his face. He knows how to make me love him.
He loved the bantering and my honesty. He knew my expectations were not like those imposed on him in the past. All I expected was that he put effort into what he did, a little heart. He's not at Harvard or M.I.T studying nuclear physics with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He's carrying a dual major in computer science and finance. He wants to be like Bill Gates (or better) when he grows up, minus the wealthy part. He says he's going to be a world leader.
Do I believe him? Yes. He's not joking. Jake is serious about his life and his future. Like mine, the future is not always within reach. He doesn't tell me what he wants just because he'll never reach it. He believes he will. I believe with him. He's learning to pull back and live in the moment.
"That's the greatest phrase I've ever heard."
"Which one?" I asked
"Live in the moment."
"Hardest thing in the world to do. Harder than saying `I love you'."
"No, saying `I love you', the way you do, and meaning it, is the hardest thing in the world. No one ever has, except you."
"Close. But not like you."
"I just happened to say it first."
"No. Daniel told me he loves me before I even met you."
"My loss then."
"Nope. You rule when it comes to love. And you rock! From day 1 when I met you."
"What was that first day like, meeting me I mean."
"I was totally overwhelmed. Mrs. Doc had been counseling me in Baltimore. She said my attitude sucked, speaking plainly. I told her I didn't know any other attitude. She told me about you, that you knew how to help out people like me, because you felt things just like me."
"Yeah, I know. You feel for me. I know that when I tell you I hurt, it means something besides a word. You feel the fire like me. You hate the cancer, yours and mine both. I know you would like to take it away from me. I'm glad you can't."
"If only . . ."
"You would. I know it. So I fight it like you do. I'm not as good at it, but I'm learning. I don't want you to lose me because of this. And I want you with me for all our lives."
I looked at him and smiled. He knew how to tug at my heartstrings.
"Can I adopt you?"
"Thankfully you already had enough sense to." Funny, but he was serious.
"It's late. The sun will set soon. What do you want to do?"
"Can we watch the sunset?"
"Yeah. We need a good place to see it though."
"I know where there is a good overlook. It'll take a while but it's worth it."
We were about an hour from sunset at most. The air was cold and we had a great hike. It reminded me that I wanted to take him to my secret place and its unseen depths, and to The Tree. I wanted him to see the world, and his imagination, with no limits. And then to push them. We would do that soon, some weekend when he came home.
The sun sat low on the horizon, clouds around it so it had some character and color. I liked that better than clear-day sunsets. It went from yellow to golden, to a pink/orange glow.
He sat behind me, head on my shoulder, cheek touching my cheek, arms around my chest, watching the sky intently. The breeze would smell so sweet. I reached up and he held my hands. The sun dropped until it was half gone. The clouds turned a little fiery. The sun slowly disappeared but the afterglow lit up the bottoms of the clouds.
"You used to sit like this with Andrew."
"No wonder he loved you. To let him be part of your feeling for your life, the simple things you enjoy like sunrises and sunsets, and full moons. I feel very special. You saved my life, and don't fight with me about that."
"Seems like we talked about that before."
He turned me around to face him. This was an `eye-conversation'.
"YOU saved my life. To have missed that sky just now, those colors, that smell in the air, your own scent in my arms, how you feel to me, and how much I love you for being here -- I cannot EVER imagine my life without you."
Okay, so he left me speechless. Tears ran down my eyes and I tried to clear my throat. I had nothing to say that was more beautiful than what I just heard. He put his arms around me tighter. He touched my cheek. We sat for a long while, holding on.
"We should get home, so Mom & Pop C don't worry about us."
"A little while longer? The stars are coming out. Which planet is the bright one out there?" he said pointing to the northwest.
"Don't know, love. I'm not good with morning stars vs. evening stars. I think it varies depending on season, too. I used to know them all. Morning and evening stars, no matter Winter or Summer. You know a lot about me. Do you know what my favorite constellation is?"
"It's a winter constellation, number one. Number two, you can see it plain as day."
"You're beginning to sound like me."
"No way! What did I say?"
"Plain as day."
"Hmm, is that the New England in you?"
"Yeah, I think so. I don't hear Northeast region people saying `plain as day'. I'm still learning the dialect," I said.
"Will you take me home some day, to your home I mean, where you grew up?"
"Yeah. Long trip though."
"You haven't been home in a long while."
"No. Four years I think. When my pop died."
"Do you miss it?"
"Yeah. Nice place to grow up, and raise a family."
"Why did you come here?"
"So I'd meet you."
"You're dreaming again. Get serious."
"I am serious."
"You had no clue I even existed until four or five months ago."
"Everything happens for a reason. You were meant to be my boy."
"I don't agree with the first part. I have no problem with the second."
"You don't believe everything happens for a reason?"
"About as much as you do."
"Lots of people do believe that."
"Minus two; you and me."
"I'd like to believe. But you're right. I can't justify that I lost Kate and my child. Or that I lost my Andrew. There is no valid reason that I'd accept that I have lost three of the best parts of my life. It hurts too much to believe in `everything happens for a reason'. If so, the reason sucks."
"I know, Dad. I hear you. I have no answer either."
"I can see why, mostly, I got cancer -- so I'd live fiercely, like Jeff says. Too bad it took cancer to make me live to that level."
"From what I hear of your teen years, you lived that way anyway, maybe not `fiercely', but you had no boredom in your life. Somebody like me could envy somebody like you."
"Well, the best part is I had Kathryn. And then I became a basketball junkie. Drama club was cool. College was the best; that's 4 years I'd do over again in a heartbeat."
"I'm liking college so far. Seems like I'll never graduate though. It's a hundred light-years away."
"Maybe, but don't blink. You'd wonder what happened."
"Funny, but at my age things look like they've gone on forever. But you got only about 20 years on me and I'm sure you feel like you're only a little older. Of course, you do anything but act your age."
"Blech. I hope I never do that."
"Nope. Me neither. I probably wouldn't love you any more."
"You love me? Cool!"
"No. I love you with all my heart. From here . . ." he said putting his hand on his heart, ". . . to here. My heart to your heart, your heart to mine."
He moved his hand to my heart, held it, and then back to his. He spoke it slowly and with feeling.
"They aren't just words, Dad. You bring total joy to my life."
"And you to mine, when I thought no one could, when I didn't want anyone to any more."
"Don't give up on it. I know what love is. But you make me feel it deeper than I would have. I mean, I love Daniel, but I am more in love with him every day because you teach me to not take anything for granted. I don't want to be his boyfriend or his lover. I want to be `his Jake', like you have `my Andrew', you know?"
I did know. "My Andrew ... My Kate". Not mine like I owned them -- mine like I held them dearly in my heart.
"Friends know that he is gay and in love with me, but they say us being separated by two hours won't work."
"Do you believe them?"
"You and Kathryn -- 1500 miles."
"How in the world do you know that?"
"God bless Mattie and Jeff-boy. I'm glad you talk to them. But we weren't just any couple."
"Neither are Daniel and I. I put up with beatings to be with him. I would put up with more, if you hadn't been there to take me away from it. I would have had broken arms and legs the way my father was going. But it wasn't enough to make me stop. I do love Daniel. And he knows."
"You always ask why. `Why not' then."
"'Why not'? I got a hundred answers for why not. He's a guy. You're a guy. People would say it's unnatural to love another boy. Or they would say that I'm a bad influence on you, that you would not be gay if I stopped encouraging you. Or . . ."
"Okay, I give! I love Daniel because he did what I needed the most; brought me to you; to be with you. He could have told me that he was taking me to the hospital instead. But he didn't. He brought me to you. He knew you were the only one I trusted. He listens, that's why I love him. I'm important to him. That's why I love him more."
"Will you love him forever?"
"I don't know. I'm living in the moment -- my moment. I love him today and into my near future, as long as I don't die."
I heard night sounds. I heard the sound of my son's beating heart. I felt the love he gave to me, deeply and sincerely. I felt all the things that he was afraid of and I made a silent promise that I would take it all away when I could. Not if. When.
I had things to teach my boy. And I had things to learn. All I wanted was a lifetime in which to do that.