Jake - Part 8
I asked Jake to tell me what a day is like for him. I wanted him to pick one, at random, and write things down in a notebook. He has seen my notebook, so he knows the detail that is in there. You wonder how I can `recreate' whole conversations with Jake, about things that happened months ago. My notebook -- words and phrases, kept in my back pocket, used constantly. Plus I also listen when people talk to me.
He protested. "I'm not a writer, like you. It would be terrible."
"It would be grand," I told him.
"Nobody wants to hear about me."
"Everybody wants to hear about you."
He thought about it for a minute. Then he gave me the Jake face. I haven't found a way to describe that just yet. But anyway, he was warming up to the idea.
"What to write?"
"Write down what you see so I can see it. Jeff's folk's house is familiar to me, so I can fill in the detail. Write down what you think about, what you feel. What's a morning like for you. What about school, and the afternoon. What do you do after classes, and at work, and what do you think about when you go for your walk. How do you feel at sunset, and before bedtime. I know you like the night sky. Tell me what you see up there. What do you think about before you go to sleep."
"Jeez, I'd fill twenty notebooks then."
"Now you get the idea," I said with a smile.
"You're choice. Pick a day as you go along. Pick a couple."
"None. Just put it down in Pop's computer once you got your notes. Write like you're talking to me only. I can help you edit if you want, when you're all done."
So Jake has an assignment. Don't tell him -- it's partly to let him focus on the `stuff' he deals with, to sort it out. And it's partly to see for himself what he feels about being Jake. I'm eager to see what he does.
Part of loving someone deeply is to be able to talk to them about anything, to persuade them, to listen without saying a word, or to answer every question they could have for you. Jake and I talked about everything. He liked to be inside my head. Sometimes he'd start `a fight' just to see how I would handle myself. This was a discussion during the time we were waiting to hear the decision about his name change (and for me, his adoption).
Jeff had taken Joe to the mall. He had picked up on a signal that Jake wanted to be alone with me, even though Jake never said a word. We were sitting in his room. I was leaning up against the wall, my legs stretching the length of the bed. Jake was curled up near me, resting his head on my chest, facing me, holding my hand, something he found very comforting.
"Why do I have to be different?"
"You're not, not in the way you think."
"I'm gay. That's different enough."
"Why is that? Gay isn't different. You're like other people."
"A minority. I'm a freak."
"Okay, so am I. Daniel too."
"If you are, then I am."
"You loved Kate."
"Then I'm more of a freak."
"Aaron doesn't know if he wants a wife, or a boyfriend. What a freak!"
"I'll hurt you, I swear."
"You couldn't. Because you hated being hurt."
"But I am different, Aaron. I got a broken arm to prove it."
"You got a broken arm because your father doesn't know how to love his son. Parents with an ounce of brains do not bash their own sons and daughters. They don't have to agree with it, but they are bound to you by love."
Jake hadn't known love in too long.
"But you are not different from the general population of the world. You're different from me, and from Daniel, and from Jeff or Mattie. You are Jake. You are special, individual. No one else can say that."
"No one else would want to."
"Now you stop. You're so special. Does going to court help prove it?"
"You're so special because you are Jake. Not because you're gay or not gay or anything else. I loved a man too. I made love to Andrew and let him make love to me. I had sex with him and liked it!"
He scowled at me. His eyes looked over my face and then landed back on my eyes.
"What's the difference between making love and having sex."
"Sex is to get off, a need to release. Sex is a little more playful. Making love is to want nothing else but the person you're holding."
"Then I'm making love to you, right now."
Okay, so now I confused him.
"Well, maybe. But not in the real sense. Making love is with or without clothes on. It's touching and embracing. It's passion. But not necessarily to get off. Making love takes longer than having sex. The intent is different."
"If you get off, is it still making love."
The scowl again. Still confused.
"Did you conceive your baby in love, or in sex?" he asked me.
"In love. I remember when like yesterday. And what we did to get there. We knew we wanted a baby, but how we got there was a very long and romantic journey. I knew the moment of conception, or at least I wished very very hard for it to be that moment."
He looked at me, a little less confused, but not knowing the real difference yet.
"When I made love to Kate, we weren't thinking about sex. We were thinking only about holding and touching, kissing, with music in the background. I always bought her a single rose, any color I could get, when I wanted us to make love. We could be on the sofa or in front of a fireplace, even outdoors on a blanket near a stream. Making love is a mood thing, usually a quiet mood thing, for us anyway. Or we could be in our bedroom, laying together before we slept, or after we woke up. I would do what she wanted, because I cared about her. We didn't talk. I just knew."
I had to think if I wanted to say this next part or not. I ran it over in my head first. It was more confusing. Jake could tell I was thinking, so he stayed quiet. He watched me for a long while. I wasn't sure about saying anything.
"And Andrew?" he prompted.
I don't know how Jake read my mind. He could. He did.
"Making love to Andrew was different. Same rules as with Kate -- clothed or not, touching and holding, music or peace and quiet. But."
My throat clenched tight.
I don't know why it hurt to think about Andrew and I making love. I could think about sex with him and probably freely talk about it, especially to Jake. In my mind I said that making love to Andrew was special, so different by degrees than with Kate. Kate and I were the same age. Andrew was younger, by nine years. With Andrew it was a forbidden passion, something I couldn't share with my friends.
"Because he was a guy?" Jake asked, again inside my head, reading my thoughts.
I could feel the tears coming. Weren't they there for Kate too? Why could I talk to Jake frankly about Kate, but my throat choked off if I wanted to talk about Andrew? Jake could relate to talking about Andrew more because he too was in love with another guy.
"I felt, at first, that when I made love to Andrew that I was dishonoring the memory of my Kate. I told Andrew that. He understood, and let me work it out with him. It was a tearful weekend. When the tears were gone, I could hold on to my Andrew and show him I loved him."
"Andrew deserved your heart every bit as much as Kate did, Aaron."
"You don't believe that."
"I do. But I can't compare making love with Kate and making love with Andrew. It wasn't the same, beyond the basic physical reasons."
"You've made love with Daniel. You already know."
"I want to hear how you felt with Andrew. I already know how I felt with Daniel. What made you fall in love with Andrew?"
"His face, his eyes, his mind. His tears, his dedication to Joe through the coma, his need to care about someone."
"What about your needs?"
"Few and far between. I told myself after Kate that there would be no one else. Andrew thought it was so unfair to deny myself, or another person, love."
"Not love. Great love. Deep inside-your-heart love. And Andrew had a terrible cancer. Did that make a difference in your decision?"
"It added a sense of urgency."
"Like mine does?"
"Yes. But I don't do things for you because I think you're going to die"
I shook my head. I touched his face. If only I believed that 100%. Jake has leukemia. His odds are better by far than what Andrew had. But . . .
"But you did them for Andrew, because you were afraid?"
"Yes. Not everything, because thinking he was going to die and hoping he was going to live were two very different things."
"When you made love to him, did you ever think about that being the last time?"
"Is that why it was different than Kate? You never thought once about losing Kate, right?"
"No, I never did. There are basic assumptions you make about your life. When you are young and newly married, losing your spouse is the last thing you'd think about."
"So you assumed, and conducted your life, like Kate and you had forever."
"And you made love with Andrew like it could all end tomorrow."
"You feel guilty about that. Why?"
"It wasn't fair to Andrew."
"It was fair. Andrew knew he was not going to live, long before you accepted it. Andrew wanted one thing from you -- for you to feel love again despite the wall you had built around your heart. He chipped away at the wall daily. For you to love anyone had to be so special in the first place. For you to love a man was a miracle. And for you to love Andrew was a one in a million lifetime blessing, something you couldn't imagine ever in your life."
I couldn't say anything.
"I'm not confused any more. You loved Kate because she was part of your life forever, had been since you were 5 years old. I know you, so I know Kate had the best of whatever she needed from you. You still love her, with a lot of sadness."
"You loved Andrew for a lot of reasons. You loved him more deeply because, despite your hopes, Andrew would not be part of your life forever. And you still love him, with a lot of sadness, more than you've been able to bear, so you had to add guilt to the mix."
I nodded. More tears -- hurting tears.
"Am I wrong, at all?"
"Don't do that to yourself. You have no right."
"But I loved someone else, when I didn't want to, when there was no way to love, and not especially loving Andrew."
"Especially loving Andrew. Andrew knew how to break down your wall. And you let him. If you didn't want him to, there was no way he ever would have."
I had to think about that.
"Tell me I'm wrong, Aaron. Tell me I'm just a stupid young kid."
"No, love, you're not stupid. I've just never put those words to it before. You're not wrong. I loved Andrew more ..."
What a terrible thought. I rubbed my head, so confused.
"Finish your sentence, Aaron"
"I loved Andrew more than Kate."
The words made me break down. I gasped for air as I cried. Jake held me. He held my head against his shoulder. He let me alone for a few minutes.
"Listen to me, Aaron. Please."
I nodded. I lay on my back and tried to wipe the tears from my face. The words echoed through my head. `I loved Andrew more than Kate'. How cruel.
"Because you were scared that Andrew would die without knowing you really could love him. You never had to worry about Kate dying, because she wasn't sick. You never considered Kate being killed. Nobody thinks about that. You knew, or at least you felt strongly, eventually, that Andrew would be lost to you. You had to love him more, Aaron. You had no choice."
It would take a while for that to sink in. Jake was right, about the guilt part. He listened to me talk about Kate and Andrew for the past few weeks. He heard me, so why didn't I hear me?
"You're going to beat yourself up about this, aren't you?"
He looked at me, feeling bad that he brought it up in the first place.
"Maybe. But you were right to ask the question. Don't pull away from me because you think something you ask would hurt me."
"I don't want you to be sad, or make you cry. You feel things, and I want to know about that. It'll make me better."
"I loved Kate with all my heart, Jake. We didn't fight. I never took her for granted. We worked hard. We were supposed to have a family and grow old together."
"I know. If that happened, you would have been on a different path. Ours would have never crossed. Can you be happy, even a little, that you and me are here?"
"I am happy beyond anything you can feel that you and me are here, love. I'm going to prove that to you by something I'm doing."
"What are you doing?"
"I can't tell you. I'm afraid to jinx it. I can't tell anyone, because then it won't happen."
"I trust you."
I nodded, glad for that.
"You're so special, you know. I'm going to have a life because of everything you do for me. I have to tell you something."
He was sad-faced again. I was listening.
"I would have given up on chemo because of what my father was doing to me. I thought about dying, to save myself from my father, because I would not be able to take one more beating. He hurt me worse than the cancer could. I wished that he'd break a rib and push it into my heart. I couldn't run. He'd find me if I ran. But if I died . . ."
I pulled him into my arms. I kissed his cheek and then his forehead. I could not imagine what Jake lived through every day. It was like Hell on Earth. It wasn't a life. Dying would have been better than that. I closed my eyes and I prayed so hard for his adoption. It would have been cruel to us both for that to be denied. If it wouldn't happen here in Pennsylvania, I would find a new home for us and try again. I wanted Jake to be my son, no longer his father's son. Jake did not love his father. He barely loved his mother. But he loved me so purely, do deeply. I wanted to tell him what I was up to, but if I did, it would not happen. Like Jake with his beatings, I could not be a loser three times. Kate gone and Andrew gone were enough, more than enough. Jake gone too? No. I wouldn't stand for that. He was so deeply rooted in my heart and soul this very moment that to be denied anything, including adoption, would break my spirit forever. Jake was my miracle.
"You won't die now, love. I'll love you for the rest of my life. We'll find a way to get your leukemia gone. Give it an attitude, okay? You know how."
"Because of you, I know how. You teach me things; life things, love things. I don't care if the court won't let me change my name. You're so special anyway, and I'm going to be your boy, somehow."
"You are my boy. Nobody would ever deny us that much. You have a safe home to come to. That's better than you had before."
"And I have you to love, and to love me back. That's fierce. It doesn't get any better than to have Aaron's love. Everything else is just fluff when it comes to my life."
He made me smile. He smiled too. He put his arms around me. We lay there for a long while and held on. We dozed off together, face to face. For the moment, the world didn't matter. My boy, for me to love and to love me back, was as good as it would get. That is, indeed, as Jake put it, fierce.
Agony -- The Adoption, or not
I watched for mail every day. I looked at the calendar hanging in my kitchen, trying to figure out when news would arrive. Jake did the same, I noticed.
"The court won't say no to a name change, love. The attorney will help. My judge friend is a character witness for me. Jeff put in his two cents for me. A name change won't be a big deal, you'll see."
"Then why do you watch the calendar every day, like it's a crystal ball?"
"I didn't realize you saw me."
"You see me too. I'm doing it like you are."
"Not entirely," I said under my breath.
"Nothing. You up for a walk around the neighborhood? I didn't get out at lunch today so I'm starved for fresh air."
"Yeah. I'll go get our jackets."
We walked out of the front lobby and turned right, passing in front of the building next to mine. I had my hands in my pockets because the air was cold. Jake moved closer to me and put his left hand in my pocket. I looked at him as he looked at me.
"Is that okay?"
"Oh yeah, love." I squeezed his hand as we intertwined our fingers. He smiled.
"I will always love you. Thank you for talking to me at the hospital when we first met. I know now that I scared you because I have Andrew's eyes. Thank you for fighting with me when I needed to hear something that I didn't want to. Thank you for not letting me be selfish."
"You are welcome, for everything. Thank you for trusting me. Thank you, so much, for loving me.
We walked to the basketball and tennis courts near the entrance to the apartment complex. We stopped a moment. This was my favorite place to be. Jake knew that.
"This is a sacred place to you, too. Not like the pond, but close."
"Yes. Do you play?"
"I can throw a ball, but I rarely make a basket. I wish I knew how to play, like you do."
"I could teach you, when you're ready."
We walked up the hill and turned left onto a local street, and then left again onto a state highway. There was pasture land all around. We walked on a very winding road, no different than the road we walked together in Jake's quest to have a new name. I wanted to tell him that I had amended the application, but I couldn't. It would be the only secret I ever kept from Jake. He wouldn't be mad. He would, however, wonder why I didn't trust him to know. But it wasn't about trust. I'm not overly superstitious, but I knew that if I told Jake, it would never happen. I would jinx it and I would lose my boy.
I didn't want to get too far from home. Jake's joints hurt him, because of the leukemia. He would push himself, but I didn't want him to go beyond reason. I pushed too, but I knew my upper limit. If I went too far, and no one was with me to rescue me, I risked too much.
We walked back toward the local neighborhood. He was breathing hard by the time we got back to the entrance to my building. I picked him up and carried him upstairs. He opened the door for us. I put him on the sofa and took his jacket off.
"You guys okay?" asked Matt, coming into the living room from down the hall.
"Yeah. We had a long walk. A little tired is all. How about some juice, love"
Jake nodded. Mattie told me to sit tight. He'd get some for both of us. I lay behind Jake on the sofa. Matt came back and sat on the floor in front of us.
"You're really pale," Matt said to Jake. He felt his forehead. He went into the bathroom to get the thermometer to check his temp. "100.8. Not too bad; probably pretty normal. Where did you walk to?"
"The old barn. It was quite a walk."
Matt put the thermometer in my ear too.
"102 for you bud. Time to rest. I'll go and stay with Joe. He's napping. I think I could use one too. You two rest for a while. I'll help with dinner later."
Wednesday was my Day 2, and Jake's Day 1. I arrived at 4:30 as usual. Doc told me softly that today was also bone marrow day. I always knew at the last moment, because anxiety would drive me insane to know ahead of time. He and I went down the hall to an exam room. He had two samples to draw; one from my hip and one from my breastbone. Blood tests would show only so much. The real course of my cancer showed in the cells within my bone marrow. I changed into gym shorts. I took off my shirt. He swabbed down my chest. There was no local anesthetic for this. This is 18th century medicine. I lay flat on my back and put my hands under my butt so I would not fight him. I closed my eyes and I took my mind as far away as I could run in the short time it would take to do the aspiration. The first few times I ever had this done, I passed out. It was too much to bear. It was cruel torture, mind-numbing in its ugliness of a doctor invading and terrorizing a patient's body. I lay still while he pulled my gym shorts down a bit to get at my hip. I kept my eyes closed while he tapped for the second sample. It hurt only minimally less than the first.
I suddenly realized Jake would have these as well. I wanted to be with him the next time. I made a mental note to ask his doctor if she'd tell me. Jake would not know ahead of time either. I don't know how many he would have had, but I wanted to help him through them next time.
"Doc, Jake doesn't have to do this today, does he?"
He disappeared for a few moments. I pulled my shorts back up and put on a t-shirt. I tied my Nike's.
"Not today, Aaron. Not for another few weeks."
Jake arrived a few minutes after 5:00, from the bus. I wasn't in the treatment room yet, but he knew I was here because my stuff sat beside my lounge chair. When I came in, I give him a long hug before he has to get hooked up. Jeff would be here in a while too.
This is where we had met, but I so hated to see him here. Jake's lady doc put the IV in his butterfly. She went to attend to another patient. Doc puts mine into my hip.
Doc is a researcher. He doesn't have a practice. I'm his lab rat, willingly; mostly willingly. I have to think about that sometimes, wondering if the standard protocol would help me more than the latest under-test drugs. Someone has to test. There would be no `standard protocol' now, like Jake is on, if it weren't for people like me who tested the more advanced drugs. Little buddy Ben is taking only injections, with a high success rate, because 5 and 10 years ago young patients were willing to take a risk.
Jake knows I'm taking `tomorrow's drugs' in my IV. He watches me as Doc finishes hooking me up and starts the flow. Even with a saline solution, mine burn at the beginning of the flow. Doc always stands and holds my hand in his, bracing me for the first 3 or 4 minutes of pain. I try to keep focused on Jake, pushing it out of my mind, but I can't. My breath draws in sharply as the fire enters my hip. I cry out, looking up at the ceiling. I try so hard not to, but I just do. I startled Jake. He's never seen this. He usually arrives later, after I'm already well into it. I get hot. I'll sweat profusely for about 10 minutes and then I'll be so cold for the next two hours. Doc wipes my forehead with a cool cloth until the heat passes.
He goes to the closet and gets me a blanket. He wraps me up in it because I'll be shivering in a few minutes if he doesn't. He gets another for Jake because he knows Jake gets cold, and also that he likes to nap. Then Doc goes to the lab with my two bone marrow samples.
Jeff comes in. He comes over to me and kisses me on my forehead, putting his hand on my face to make sure I'm not still too hot.
"No, I'm cold already. There's no heat left in my body, love. I'm so cold. I need to sleep a while. Go take care of my boy, huh? I'm going to sleep."
Jake had heard me. He was so sad. We had different cancers but went through much of the same things. Jeff sat beside Jake, pulling the blanket around him and tucking Jake's head into his shoulder. I lie back watching them while they lie together watching me.
"You're so special, Aaron. Please know that," said Jake.
"I do know, bud. You're so special, too."
I pushed the blanket down a moment. I put my hand on my heart for a moment and then raised my palm to Jake. He raised his palm toward me and then touched his heart. After a moment, he raised his palm back to me. I raised my palm back to him, and then touched my heart.
Ideally we would be sitting close together, so I could touch my heart, then his, then back to mine.
"My heart to your heart, your heart to my heart. Love will always be, beyond the bounds of death."
He smiled at me. He loved the gesture. He loved the words. I had already taught Jake my very special `heart love' symbolism. Doing it the way I just did tells him how deeply I feel, because he already knows the true meaning of what I said.
Only six people have ever shared that with me, Jake being the 6th. It started with Kate. The first time I taught her, she cried. We were 15, maybe 16 if I remember. It left no doubt about how I felt about loving her. I had used it, carefully, on many occasions after that.
I had not learned it from anyone. It started in my thoughts. It was not done lightly. It was not just the words ... there must be a one-on-one physical sharing of it. Done properly it can be very emotional. It should also, ideally, be done shirtless. (Yes, even with Kate, so there).
The second time I shared it was in college, with my roommate and very longtime friend -- 27 years until September 11th. He broke down when he realized how deep the meaning was. He had taught his wife-to-be, and he had taught his two children when they were old enough to know. It lived through all his life, and I hope well beyond his death. I would not know for sure.
Andrew was my third. We were alone under the full moon one summer night. We talked about life and death. And love. Sharing this was the turning point from him being my friend to me loving him deeply. He knew, without a doubt, that I loved him. He held me and wept for ten minutes after I shared.
Jeff learned about `heart love' three years into our friendship, sometime in 1997. He too broke down, deeply moved by the meaning and the words, by the touching. I had been recovering from a long bout with rejecting my new kidney. He did not know, still, if I would live or die. I told him I loved him but the words didn't sink in because he was too scared. Under a Spring sky one Saturday afternoon, I told him again, using heart love. The words sank in that time. He accepted I would live, at least for now, because of his love for me, mine for him. Jeff shared it with Kellie a long while later. They will share it with their Jordan when he grows up.
Matt learned the meaning of my special love expression a year later. He had been through an exhausting few months with me; holding my head through long bouts of nausea, driving me to and from two sessions a week, and waiting through bone marrow tests outside the room (it's too personal; no one can share it with me). He was depressed, to the point he wanted to ask his doctor about medication for his moods. I took him on the long walk to the pond on Saturday instead. I told him how I felt about him but, like Jeff, it wasn't sinking in. He was too tired and he was so scared for me. I sat down facing him. I told him to listen to me, and to not say anything. I said it slowly, and then I repeated it. He heard me. He understood me. He knew, somehow, that this was not shared with everyone. He hugged me close and cried. He knew this special thing between us would take care of the doubts. It did. Mattie was Mattie again in a couple of days. He asked me if he could share it with Ginny. I told him yes, but it had to be at a moment when it meant something, like between us just now.
I will teach Joe in time.
And it is not done in E-mail because it's just words. I've tried to make it special that way, but it isn't. It has to be done face to face, in a quiet moment alone.
With Jake, it was very emotional. It was one of my post-Christmas gifts. We had known each other almost three months, and I knew how I felt about him. He had lost so much. I wasn't yet sure that gaining me as a friend was the best for him. I wanted it to be, so very badly. I wanted to be the most important person in Jake's life. We went for a walk. He told me all the things he was afraid of. It was just at the point where we had successfully contacted his mom. He was so torn about the life he left and starting over again. He was afraid for me, being so sick from chemo and from the cancer.
"I may not be here through all your life, bud. But I want you to know how I feel about you right now. I can tell you You're so special, but you might blow it off as not important."
"I wouldn't. I know you love me, Aaron. You've said it, and you've proved it."
"I want to show you something. It will add one more proof in the words. I know it's cold out here, but I need you to take your shirt off for a moment. Is that okay?"
I took mine off. He accepted it and did the same.
"This is called `heart love'. There is probably a better phrase for it, but I've called it that for over 30 years."
I spread my legs so he could sit closer to me. We were both cold already but it couldn't be rushed. I held his hand while I talked to him.
"You're so special, Jake. You know the words and you know what that means. You are fearful of things, rightfully so. You have seen too many changes in so short a time. I will do anything for you, within my power and resources. My home is yours. My life is yours if you'll take it. I can't help but think that in a few weeks time the stresses will be gone and you'll be on the track you want again, away from the pain you've had to feel in the past. I don't believe in adversity making you stronger. It can suck your energy and your desire to live away from you. But I want you to know a good life. That life includes my commitment to loving you."
A tear flowed from his eye. I reached up with my thumb and pushed it aside. I touched his face.
"You're so special very dearly, my Jake, from my heart . . ."
I touched my heart, palm flat on my chest, for a long moment, pulling out the warmth.
" . . . to your heart".
I put my hand over his heart, and shared the warmth with him. He closed his eyes and drew in his breath slowly. I don't know why, but it is a natural instinct to do so. Everybody I have showed this to does that. There have been no exceptions when I went heart to heart.
"From your heart, to my heart".
I took my hand off his chest and put it back on mine. I closed my eyes to let the warmth return.
When I opened my eyes again, Jake moved closer yet to me. He put both arms around me. He kissed me very lightly on my lips, then my cheek, and my forehead. He put his face into my neck and wept. I held him close to me, letting him cry it out.
"My Aaron. Awww, that was unlike anything I've ever felt. I'm drained and renewed at the same time. My chest tingled as I felt your warmth flow inside from your hand. Was that supposed to happen?"
"Yes." I choked up. No one ever said that before, except Andrew.
"Did you take yours back?"
"No. I gave you mine, then took yours into mine. You have my love and heart; and I have yours."
"Awesome. Then I have yours for always? And you have mine?"
"Yeah. Is that okay?"
"That's more than okay. That's what love is. You give to me and I give back to you. But this was so special, not just words. I felt you inside me. I hope you felt me too."
"I did. I will forever now. You are inside me for all my life."
"Wow. Thank you. That's an incredible gift to share."
I smiled. I gave him back his two shirts and jacket. I put my sweatshirt and jacket back on too.
"Do we have to go back home yet?"
"Only if you want to."
He turned around and backed up against me. I knew what he wanted. I put both arms around his chest as he leaned into me. We watched the cold night sky together. I put my hand back on his heart, inside his jacket. I could feel it beating strongly within him. He put one hand on top of mine.
"Does it get any better than this?" he asked me.
"For the moment, no. Love is the best there is."
"No, love with you is the best there is. You're the master."
"Only with those I chose to share it with. Some people think I'm a prick. I can be as tough as I can be gentle. Some would say I'm a bad influence on you, that I shouldn't support your feelings and your love for Daniel. They think I can make you straight."
He laughed. "Please don't, even if you could. I love Daniel. I don't want to be straight. Or whatever. It's a stupid label. Andrew is the only man you've ever looked at. Daniel is the only man I've ever looked at. Some day I will show him `heart love'. After experiencing it, there is no better phrase, Aaron. That's what it is."
"Daniel loves you too. If you look at his eyes when he's looking at you, you know. I've seen it. He thinks you're the best thing there is."
"He still isn't sure about sleeping with me yet. He's worried."
"He has nothing to worry about. If he wants to sleep over with you, he's welcome here. When you love someone, you show them that love in different ways. I can't think of anything better than wanting to hold you all night. If he's afraid of what I'll think, or if I'm keeping you two from anything else, I want him to know I care very much for you both. He doesn't need my permission to make out with you. It's your home. Do what's right at the moment. When your door is closed, I'll respect your privacy."
"You're amazing. What parent would let their son or daughter have the freedom you give me?"
"I'm not your parent. I know what love is and so do you. You're 20. If you get pregnant, don't blame me though."
I caught him off guard. He was silent for a moment, and then he laughed out loud.
"Just checking, love. Just checking."
It was time to get home. The air was colder and I didn't want either one of us sick. He held my hand again, in my pocket. Jake had so much love to give, he didn't mind giving a lot of it to me. I gladly accepted it.
Five weeks passed so slowly I couldn't stand it. I fell asleep at night scared. I would wake in the middle of the night in a panic, seeing DENIED stamped across a piece of paper in my dreams. One night I got up to get some water. It was after 2:00 a.m. I looked in on Jake.
"Aaron?" he said softly in the dark.
"Sorry love. I didn't mean to wake you up."
I sat on the edge of the bed next to him.
"You didn't. I can't sleep. I had a nightmare a while ago. I don't feel like sleeping."
"Can I hold you, love?"
"You don't have to ask first."
He moved over closer to the wall. I lie down beside him, facing him, and then pulled him to me. I put one arm around his shoulder and held his hand.
"I wish the nightmares would go away, Jake. Real life was bad enough. You shouldn't have to live it over again in nightmares."
"Yours too. They're worse than mine."
"What are yours about?"
"I'm hiding in the garage. He finds me. I dream about being chased, and getting tackled. He sits on my stomach and hits me. Then he balls up his fist and strikes my face. He grabs me by my hair and pounds my head against the ground. Sometimes I wake up there. Sometimes I relive that he broke my arm."
"It won't ever happen again, love. No one is going to touch you if you don't want. That's why I ask if I can hold you. I try not to move around you suddenly either. If I ever see you wince around me, I'm not being careful enough."
"I don't worry around you. You wouldn't hurt me."
"No. You're my boy and I'll watch out for you."
"I wish you were my dad. I would be so good to you."
"Do you believe in wishes?"
I held my Jake in the dark. He went back to sleep. I did too, but not right away. I had some things to talk to God about first.
"Thank you for bringing Jake into my life. Thank you for letting me know how to care for him, to help him live again. Please God, let Jake be my son. It's not wrong if he wants it."
I closed my eyes. I slept peacefully until 6:00.
When the mail came, my heart stopped. There was an envelope from the district court judge. I wanted news, good or bad, to come from him. The attorney I had worked with had done as I asked and sent the papers to the court's office. Nobody was home yet. Jake would be working. Daniel had an hour to go, and then would go pick Jake up. Jeff and Matt were at work. Joe was at the hospital for his PT. It was just me.
I stood in the lobby of my building, fixed in place, scared to move. How my life and Jake's life went, from this moment forward, was in this envelope. I wanted to open it on the spot. I held it and willed it to be good news. Somehow I managed to climb a flight of stairs and stand in front of my apartment door. I put the key in the lock, opened the door, closed it, and sat on the floor in the living room.
I used a letter opener to open the packet. There were a lot of papers inside. I leafed through them all. The one I wanted was on the bottom. I read it. My throat seized up. I read it again to make sure I didn't miss any of the words. It was dated Thursday, January 31st, 2002. Today was February 1st, 2002. Today marked a `moving forward' point for us. There would be no looking back.
NOW was the finest moment ever in my life. Better than loving Kate; better even than loving Andrew. This is the reason I went to my sacred place to think about my life. Jake had come into my life in answer to the questions I asked constantly about living or dying.
I cried, maybe as hard as I ever have. I dropped the papers and I held myself, down on my knees, as blessed a man as ever there was on Earth today. Nothing would be the same for us, ever again. Jake had his freedom from his father -- and Jake, not knowing it yet, had what he wanted most; my family name to honor as his own, for all his life.
He was `my Jake' now, by every measure than meant anything to the world-at-large. He would have been anyway, even without a piece of legal paper pile. He could now, legally, have my family name. He could sign "James
Langille" to any document and it would stand strong in court.
Jake was my boy the moment I took him away from his parents. His life and well-being were mine because I was the only thing he had left.
This is what love means to a man . . . and to his son.