A Short Story /Nonfiction By brian francis

Even as a gay man of thirty, living the happy carefree life of travel and partying; tragedy can still strike, destroying it all.  After ten years of living in a loving relationship of commitment and devotion we both turned our attentions away from each other and ventured down a scary and fearful path.

I was the one who dared to even consider those first steps.  Friends listened and cautioned me against doing it. Dwayne, my everything, witnessed my struggle, heard all our friends warn against doing it, and still looked me in the eyes and told me to follow my heart — reminding me that there was nothing we could not over come together.  Still just thinking of those days, tears well in my eyes – love is a wonderful thing. 

It all happened as I sat on the ground in my garden fiddling with my peppers and herbs.  A voice behind me said hi.  I turned to find the nine-year-old boy who months before had threatened me with dire consequences because I snatched him up when he attacked another boy.  On that day I snatched him off of the other boy and gave him a scolding on fighting and violence.  When I released him, he ran across the street and turned to inform me that he would bring his parents over.  Of course, I was amenable to talking to his parents about the behavior that I had witnessed and I informed him so.  He then corrected my thinking as an ass beating was in order in his opinion.

And boy did this kid rage.  I responded to each threat he made with a calm assurance that I could handle whatever came my way.  I finally chased him off and he ran home. Never heard another word about it except for the mother of the other child coming to thank me for being the adult. 

I remember smelling my fingers, a mix of mint and oregano, while I watched the little hitman leaning against my palm like he thought he was “The Fonz.” He was tense as he struggled to reach out to me.  Then with tears in his eyes he told me how he was unhappy.  He didn’t know what he could do.  I heard a whirlwind of depression and fear coming from this little kid.  It truly touched my soul and sorrow engulfed me. 

That was the “slippery slope – the event horizon.”  I got involved, I met his mother and worked with her to assist his healing.  I learned about his being removed from the care of his father because of beatings and abuse.  His mother one day, handed me a six by nine envelope.  It contained what was case against her ex-husband and included police reports (the officer must have been a budding writer because he documented with great detail), and glossy photos of a scared scarred lost little boy.  The marks upon his little body covered him from head to toe.  A hand print clearly detailed in the burst blood vessels on his back.  My heart felt such sorrow looking at those photos. 

It wasn’t long before we were considering conceding to his request to rehome himself to our home.  A temporary arrangement was made and all of the people who felt they had the right to interject their opinions were consistently against two gay men taking in a little boy.  To give them credit the social norms of the moment made it a bit dangerous even.  Gays at the time were living out and the breeders (not meant as a derogatory) were coming to realize that we were everywhere doing everything just like them.  But still while gays were becoming gays many still saw faggots and it bothered them. 

Two weeks after he moved in to our home the school called his mom who instructed them to call me with problems as her son was living with me “her brother.”  When the teacher finally called me, she was brimming with pride at Steven’s (the boy) miraculous changes.  She encouraged me to continue with whatever I was doing, because, they have watched him rapidly change to becoming a great student, attentive and helpful. 

I had no idea what I had done to allow him to change.  I still had not discussed his father with him or the photos I had seen.  I had cooked meals for him and encouraged him with his school work, made a schedule for us to follow.  I walked him to school every day for a while, he dismissed me farther and farther away from the school over the school year; until he would ask me in front of the house, which way I was walking the dog, so he could go the other way.  And that was okay, I still had my afternoon walk which put me at the school at the final bell.  That lasted until junior high when I was not willing to walk that far.  I came to miss the recounting of the day while walking home, thankfully, I still got it while I cooked dinner or tried to write.  

Our time together taught me many things, most amazingly it taught me a kind of love I would have never found had I not stepped up.  Many people encouraged us to consider going the foster route.  We were not doing what we did for financial gain.  We acted with our heart as Dwayne had advised me. 

At some point some undefinable point on the scale of life I transitioned from a caregiver and I became a father.  I mean that, with all the sincerity a person could muster.  I swore, I would help him find himself, little did I know how much I would find out about myself.  I am a better person for all of the struggle and grief of being a parent.  I am a better husband (yes, we married in twenty fourteen: thirty-six years of us \ six of a legally acknowledged us).   

He moved back with his mother in the wintera year later.  He was a different boy from the skittish waif who said hi to me in the garden.  He wanted so to move back to being with Mom.  When it finally happened, I actually got depressed I mean really depressed. I wasn’t sad, it was more like I didn’t know what to do I had lost purpose.  Then late one night around midnight I got a call from the boy.  He was at a bar with mom, where “she always takes him” to eat from the happy hour offerings.  He was tired and wanted to know if I would come and take him home. 

My anger raged as I entered the bar to find him half asleep at a table.  I tapped him of the shoulder and told him to head out to the car while a said goodbye to Mom.  He grabbed his backpack and ran out.  I went over to the bar where she stood rubbing all over some other drunk and asked her what the fuck she thought she was doing.  Her drunken friend thought it appropriate to point his finger in my face as he warned me to back off (he thought I was her ex).  His facial expression was funny as I grabbed his fingers in my hand and took him to his knees.  I warned him about messing with me then I plucked him in the eye with my finger.  He curled up into a ball on his stool and whined quietly.  I finished saying my mind, then left with her watching all slack jawed and confused.

I took Steven back to her house to put him to bed.  He refused to get out of the car saying he wanted to go to his home at our house.  I got in touch with an attorney the next day to get the legal documentation to allow me to take proper care of his needs.  We were surprised when she conceded to the signing of the document without argument.  It did not change her rights it merely endowed us with the parental rights and responsibilities needed to be his parent.  He never went back to live with her again.   

 In fact, his older brother bumped into the law for some reason.  I got a call from a juvenile judge in the late evening.  After assurances that I was the person he was seeking he told me of John’s predicament.  He informed me that he wanted me to be at court with his mother in the morning.  He asked me to consider it an order, I was pounding on her door within minutes.  We were there!

I sat and watched as parent after parent were judged for their lack of involvement or ill-considered involvement.  I remember thinking that the sins of the children are a reflection of their raising.

I was sitting in the back of the courtroom alone and she was up front chatting with court people.  Finally, they brought John out.  He was so trying to be stoic, but the quiver in his face spoke of fear.  They announced his name and case and asked if the mother were present; she stood and addressed the court with a self-serving statement implying that John was the problem.

The problem for her was that judge had spent time with John and John had been honest about the people in his life.  While she spoke, the judge was chewing at the proverbial bit.  He started when she ended her diatribe and he opened up with a devastating salvo at her motherhood and went on with a barrage covering  point after point.  I was melting into my seat slithering down to be out of sight, the attack was a withering fifteen minutes speech regarding her lack of parenting skills and her inability to be a parent.  He ended with the caution to sit down and shut up because the court was done with her.    

“Is Brian here?” my stomach quivered as I pulled myself up to stand and receive whatever was coming.  He went on to explain to me how in all of his discussions with John he spoke highly of me and had informed them that I had his little brother.  He then went on to withdraw her parental rights endowing them onto me.   During this hearing he had to ask me questions to make sure I was worthy of being the parent he was asking me to be. 

He asked me if I did this or that and I answered all fine until he asked if used illegal drugs.   I explained how a back injury had left me living with pain and I used marijuana rather than opioids. He pleaded with me not to have any other issues.  When I addressed the household and explained the fact that I was gay and in a devoted relationship of over a decade his head fell into his hands.  He asked John about our relationship and John told him that Dwayne was a great person.  The judge queried me about registering as a foster parent. I informed him that it was a matter between the boys and me and that my sense of twisted honor made me need to stand alone in this as a family, I promised to see to their need as best I could. 

The judge talked to me off the record and had extremely nice observations about the person I was, I assured him that I was just a farm boy from Lancaster, Pa.  and that was just the way I’d been taught. He told me he’d been there and like the people there then and even more now.  I drove home with John and arrived home to an already made family.

Mistakes, missteps, oh god yes.  I was lucky to have had the parents I did.  They taught me many thing like haw to be a devoted parent.  My dad was a belt swinger and a back hander.  He cautioned me about hitting the kids.  I would simply never do that he taught me by doing it to me.  I asked him about the ease with which he’d struck me.  He told me to never do it myself or I would have to live with it forever.  He looked dejected when he said it, and it was the hug and forgiveness offered that took him from that sorrowful look to the teary-eyed relief on his face.

I came to understand my father in the struggles of the boys growing.  It is hard to sit and watch ready to catch, yet, willing to let them fall if they must.  Being a parent is the most frustrating, mind bending experience I have ever endured.  It is also the most rewarding thing I have ever done.  As a gay man it was not in the cards for me.  Dwayne and I could try all our lives and we couldn’t succeed.  Yet, Gaea knows what we need and the flow will always bring it to you, pay attention to the current and watch for opportunities to drift by.  

Copyright ©2020 brian francis

Published by

B. F. O'Connor

Born and raised in the idyllic environment of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. A rural paradise perfect for a roving childhood. Now living in the desert southwest, with a flock of parrots, a pigeon, and Three dogs.

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