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Sometimes With Reality
Sometimes with reality, life has a way of surprising you in a way you never surmised it playing out. I may be indecisive. Reasonably I may be a little jarring to soft ears and abrupt when it comes to my kids, but I believe I make a righteous father figure for my children. Even so, I am not one to detest my cultural heritage. I’m not a breadwinning father; my wife is certainly a homemaking mother, but my kids are not modest biblical children. Well, they are. Everyone except Jamie. Jamie is my thirteen-year-old son, shy, similar to his mother when we first dated. A precocious character; like most teenagers who play video games for hours on end, shouting at the TV when gameplay didn’t go according to plan. Plays baseball when it’s in season and hockey in the winter. Obnoxiously sings out loud when his jam plays on the radio in the car and groans at the sheer thought of homework and early mornings for school. Though tonight I caught my son doing something I never saw coming… and well… shit, I don’t know what to say. Just maybe it is best to go back to the first day I began to notice the changes.
Jamie got out of bed two months prior, ready to brace the day before the other children in the household. Now I’m not the most observant man in the world, although I do notice when your only child who has had problems crawling out bed since he was old enough to go to bed at night without a cot, gets up before my wife and me. Showered, dressed and eating breakfast was the sight I was greeted to one morning when I descended the stairs, ambling into the kitchen to find my fair-haired boy munching on Froot Loops at the breakfast counter. Taken back by his determination to take on the day before his old man, I was surprised, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud.
“You’re up early Jellybean,” I said.
Jellybean is a pet name for my little man. When he was five, he accidentally shoved a green jellybean up his nose. The ride to the hospital was a frightful experience, though thankfully it was just a quick dislodgment at the facility. The nickname stuck, and I have been calling him the same name since then.
“Dadddd…,” Jamie groaned.
“What; what did I do?” I raised my arms in defeat. Followed by a smile.
Jamie’s face furrowed though eventually softened.
“Just… nothing. The name makes me feel like a stupid baby.”
I chuckled, “well, you are a baby; you’re my baby.”
I passed behind him ruffled his hair as I made for the coffee pot and he snapped.
“Jeez Ebenezer… Right, I won’t touch your precious hair again.”
Lifting the glass pot from the receiver, I reached for a coffee cup from the draining board, tilted the pot and filled up on my morning fuel. To say I’m stunned is an understatement, though I ran with it. I pulled out a stool and joined my son at the breakfast counter. He was dressed entirely, his hair combed, and he stunk of cologne. My cologne. Where… You know what… rephrase it; why is he wearing it? It seems like Jamie had gone above and beyond to make his appearance stand out more than normal. It could only mean one thing; conceivably, he has a valiant crush on someone. Just one whiff was enough to almost make me choke. For a second, I wasn’t sure if I should let my boy know he had gone overboard, or let him figure it out all on his own like my pops did to me.
I lifted the mug to my lips, sipped and swallowed. My eyes darted toward the clock on the wall, and I realized I ought to be heading off to work soon. For now, however, I had a couple of minutes to spare, and I figured drilling my 13-year-old for answers seemed much more intriguing than collecting my necessary papers and heading out the door to start my commute.
“Is there any reason why you are wearing cologne?”
Jamie’s eagerness for breakfast dawdle, some milk slipped out his mouth, but he caught hold of himself. My boy placed the spoon for the cereal into the bowl, then fell silent. Moments before the room had been filled with chinking sounds of the spoon hitting the ceramic, denoting, a hungry teenage boy was present. With the stillness pursued you would have heard a pin drop if you paid attention. There was also a thick evasiveness sensation in the air as if he didn’t want his old man to know what he was up to. I acted like I wasn’t offended, secretly perhaps I did come on a little strong, but rather than reflecting, I took another swig of my coffee. I peered at the clock again, and this time I really did have to go, so I stood up, returned the stool to the counter, rinsed the mug and made for the door. Scrambling down the hallway, I retrieved my papers for my office and opened the front door. An image of Jamie’s discomforts floated into the forefront of my thoughts. I sighed, shut the door and returned to the kitchen. My son still sat on the high stool, with his head angled down at the cereal. He sat in the dark and only the grey light from outside spewed in on the dark cabinetry. I knew he could sense me. Trying to be helpful, I reflected on what it was like for my first time meeting a girl.
“You’ll be fine… Maybe tone down the cologne a little. Just be yourself.”
Jamie slowly lifted his head, “what are you talking about?”
“I know I’m not young anymore, but I’m not ancient. I do know when I see somebody dressed up for a first date.”
Jamie rubbed his temples and gave a halfhearted chuckled, “am I wearing too much body fragrance?”
“Just a little… Is your date after school?”
I returned to the counter, placed my briefcase containing all my papers on the marble. Stood opposite of my son and smiled.
“What’s the plan? Where you are taking her?”
“Eh… Em… Were gonna go dessert hunting.”
The preposition sounded nice, two teenagers on the scourge to find as much ice cream as they possibly could find seemed cute in a weird way. Except, the way Jamie presented the idea at first, he seemed somewhat deflated. I’m not sure what I said, but he didn’t look happy or was either he was conflicted about something I denoted. Township is a little community. I don’t know any place in town that serves that much ice cream. I know Lonnie’s sells apple crumble and three flavors of ice cream but that doesn’t seem right if they want to go dessert hunting. Given, the city is 35 minutes away, maybe I could drop them off in the city after work. It could be the least I could do for my son to have a successful first date. Plus, I can tell the wife I saw who our son is asking out.
“Hunting…,” I said. “Wouldn’t the city be a better option than here?”
My son scowled, now he seemed a little nervous. “I was getting to that… I wanted to ask could I borrow like $50 to get a bus.”
Now it made so much sense why Jamie was exceptionally quiet. He wanted to ask me for money, and possibly he didn’t know how I’d react. St. Clement is a long way away, but I suppose it is a lot safer than Anchorage. I don’t see why it would be wholly unsafe for two teenagers to walk around the central shopping district buying ice cream. Maybe I can even stay and do a little shopping myself to pass some time so the two lovebirds can get acquainted.
“How about this… What if I give you $50 and I drive you to St. Clement, and you can use that money for your date rather than paying on the bus?”
Just Jamie’s face changed instantly. Somehow, I installed a seed of fear into my child. Instinctively he shook his head and said, “it’s okay dad… I can get public transport.”
His reaction now made me feel as if he didn’t want me to see who he was asking out. Surely it wasn’t something inconspicuous as a queer kid. There was not a gay bone in my son’s body, so why wouldn’t he be willing to let me drive him and his date to the city so they could have a better time. I checked my watch, I really had to go.
“Look, I’ll talk after school… Meet me at the pick-up point, and I’ll pick you up to drive into the city.”
I grabbed the handle of my briefcase and started for the front door, “But dad…,” Jamie exclaimed. Jamie had gotten down from the high stool and followed me all the way to the car in socked feet. I really didn’t have time to talk, so I had to do what most parents don’t like to do. I had to brush my son off.
“It’ll be fine… Talk to you later.”
I got in the car, shut the door and started the ignition. I switched to reverse while urging my son to back away from the vehicle, and I pulled out and left home. As I looked in the rearview mirror, my son walked all the way to the edge of the curb, watching me drive off into the distance. Why was he acting so weird? I’ve never seen him do something like this, and he has never been in the big city before on his own. I don’t know how I feel letting my 13-year-old son loose with some random girl in a strange environment completely on their own. The least I could do was drop them off and stay close in case anything popped up. I can’t quite explain it, but something seemed to be bothering Jamie. I knew something wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t have any time to rationally think it out. It was the second time this week I was late, bloody freeway traffic, and I couldn’t afford to lose a job. Therefore, the drive down to Pine Valley, consisting of a 45-minute commute, I attempted to decode what my teenager was experiencing. As I reached the exit ramp and pulled into the turnpike to give my change for the tollbooth, the digital clock above the speedometer said 8:15 AM. Morning registration would be beginning a Township Campus where my son attended school as a day student. The more I pondered on the notion I began to think where my son would find access to a girl, considering Township Campus is an all-boys school. That didn’t make sense, so I laughed it off. My boy is always out socializing, so it is plausible that he met his lady friend with mates outside of school, the probability of such notions seemed more rational.
* * *
When I got to the office, I happen to be one of the first people in the door. Earlier than the boss today, I affirmed. Figuring I had a couple of moments to spare, I went to the staff room, poured myself another cup of coffee and placed some of my nonessentials in the cloakroom. By 8:45, I was sitting at my desk, waiting for the computer to power up. I was back to thinking about what Jamie had said to me before I left. Somehow all along the sign suggested he did not want me tagging along. First, he tried to get the bus, he seemed fearful of asking me for money, let alone tell me about his supposed date. It made me question why on earth, my son would be reluctant to tell me. I have always been a father who has done right by his children. I assume so anyway. I try desperately hard to understand problems as they arise, offering solutions, attempting to be a source of knowledge, but maintain a youthful vigor so that they can confide in me. If I have done something wrong along the way, I can’t always tell what it may have been, but I know I’d do anything to protect my children. Undertake just about any concept to make them happy. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to contemplate once the computer booted, I was put to work. Sure, occasionally the notion floated in the back of my mind, but I was determined to remain loyal to my work until I could figure out what it was that could spook Jamie.
Once lunch rolled around, I scarfed down the sandwich I bought from the deli a block away from my office. Monday’s were tuna fish, Tuesday’s spicy chicken with scallions and tomato diced peppers. Wednesdays were at last freshly sliced ham drizzled with some duck sauce and any two toppings for choosing. I loved Wednesday’s. So as I chowed down on the ham sandwich, salivating with the duck seasoning wallowing in my mouth, a colleague sat down beside me. Kiara was a mother of three, commuted from a small town called Laoise just 15 minutes south of Pine Valley. The area was literally nothing to look at, blink and you’d miss it, but she is a parent too, and perhaps she’d be able to offer some insight.
I smiled in her direction, “how’s the workload?”
“Same as usual… Close a client, and you have another five in the waiting.”
Sure, it sounded like the typical day here at the office, but as the day went on, I started to wonder if I should just leave my son be. Maybe I could pretend to have to work late, so I didn’t have to swing by to pick him up from school. I could get Laura to drop by the school and give him the money, she is a contractor. She works by her own schedule. I could just tell her I forgot to give him money this morning; that we made a deal and he won the wager. I reckon though my wife will start asking questions if I just gave our 13-year-old $50 out of the blue, on the same day he wants to go to St. Clement.
I twisted my seat to face my colleague, Kiara, “how are the kids?”
“Getting cheeky… Always bad-mouthing, continually grumpy, assuming I have a printing press in my wallet. You know… Spoiled, but I still love them. My own fault really. I complain when they don’t recognize the value of money, but I’m the same one who has given them that same notion.”
Yeah, it sounded like my kids all right? Especially, Jamie, who for the last couple of months, has been having the occasional mood swings. He assumes I have an endless pocket of riches but presumably has gotten a lot quieter in the last few months than he has been his entire life. Conceivably it is granted that some mysterious behavior has bestowed the newest teenager in the household.
With a prolonged sigh, Kiara returned the sentiment, “how about your kiddies. Your boy must be twelve, right?”
“Ah Jamie, he’s 13, not very talkative, always walking on eggshells… eggshells…”
“Say… how do you know if your child is? You know… depressed?”
Yes, the question could have been a bit spontaneous, out of place, but it had to be it. Feels like the last couple of months everyone in the family is walking on eggshells with Jamie. Our son may be overtaken by feelings of melancholia. Now that I recollect, it’s been going for months. How do I fix something like depression? Oh, God! I hope he is not suicidal… What if he is self-harming…? In the off chance, I could be just pushing the boundaries on my own limited awareness, presuming he is feeling down. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t cancel our invitation. I should turn up like I agreed, I can possibly have a talk with him while we drive home. Could running away to the city have been his way of acting out? Maybe there was no girl, just emptiness for my boy.
Kiara glanced at me, thoughtfully, “I don’t know, Em… you look for signs I guess. When you are sure you have reasonable evidence you just let them know that you are there for them, you’re willing to talk, solve problems for them. I couldn’t imagine one of my children being suicidal, breaks my heart. Somehow with the slightest sentiment, I’d think I’d had failed as a parent if my child feels like they can’t talk to me.”
Perhaps the last bit of Kiara’s statement cut a little below the belt. Except, I’m a big boy, and I can take some critical words. Though there is some sense in what she has said. How would I live with the fact if one of my children offed themselves when I saw the signals? I’d blame myself for the rest of my life fully knowing my kid suffered in silence with a manifestation that became too much.
“What makes you think one of your children are enclosed with emotions of depression?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It was just something Jamie said to me this morning. He said he had a date, he was all dressed up, even asked me for money. Only something was missing; it was like happiness was vacant.
Click… the wool was pulled over my eyes. My son wanted to run away. Is our home life really that bad? I thought I did an okay job at raising my kids, but nothing to warrant them the desire to skip town. I checked my watch, lunch was almost over, so I thanked Kiara for the conversation. I returned to my desk, hoping the workday would end sooner than it would allow. When it was time to leave, I was the first one into the car park. I rushed back to Township, racing down the turnpike onto the highway. I’d let Jamie know, I understand.
* * *
By the time I got to Township Campus, I felt hurried to pick up my boy. Driving down the main avenue to the boarding school lines with sugar maples, I kept a keen eye on some kids funneling out of the grounds on the right side of the vehicle. The school gets enough money, so, it has never made sense on me as to why they have never built a path with the cost of the tuition. One student who is boarding ought to cover the cost of a tarmac stretching from the gate to the main building. Following the road on its ridiculous one-way system, I pull up to the pick-up zone. Sure, enough Jamie is waiting to be picked up like I told him I would do, but something becomes apparently odd as I stop. My son is talking to brunette, and the two of them seem to be having a serious conversation. The type I know all too well, have taken part in many times. I gave a quick honk of the horn and Jamie acknowledged me, I smiled, then waited for him to finish with his friend. A moment later, the two boys parted ways, I followed my son on his journey, he then got in beside me, closing the door behind him. There was this odd aura to him, different than the early morning hours when I last saw him. My boy stared at the dashboard quietly, something was apparently wrong.
“What wrong?” I ask.
Jamie clandestinely peeked at me, “nothing.”
Sighing, I said, “you don’t look like a nothing is happening.”
Jamie began to fidget with his hands, his legs seemed to be rattling in the foot well. Why would he be so nervous about talking to me?
“I can’t tell you.”
At the same time, Jamie peered up over the dashboard; following his eye line, my eyes landed on the brown-headed kid he was speaking to a few minutes ago. It had to be about that kid right, he’s nervous, he doesn’t want to tell me he is getting bullied. Men in our family don’t get picked on.
“Is it about that boy?”
“Eh… No; Well, yes and no.”
Confused by his response, I ask, “he bullying you?”
“Is he your friend? You guys having a fight?”
Jamie took a gulp, “not a friend.”
“Jamie, will you stop with the games. Who is he?”
The car was thick with fear, so much so, that if I reached out, I could pick it up like a blanket draped over an armchair. My son brooded, focusing on his little handmade bracelet on his wrist.
“My… Boy-Friend,” Jamie eventually murmured.
The car flooded with a stillness.
“Boy-Friend,” I asked, unsure what he meant. Then it clicked.
Jamie didn’t answer. Instead, he resorted to jigging his leg, twirling his bracelet to escape the uncomfortable talk. I gripped the steering wheel, accepting the reality I just heard. My son just said he was gay, and he has a boyfriend. Wait, he had a date with a girl… Oh, he meant that kid, didn’t he? I’m such an idiot. I should have given him some more room to be able to talk to me without feeling pressured. I can’t quite explain it either, but I am oddly proud of my son’s bravery. I can only imagine that took a lot of effort to confess. It’s so much better than fearing my son was depressed.
“Boyfriend!” I said, turning to him to confirm it once more.
“Yes…” Jamie said after some consideration, he sat up stiffly in the seat as to be ready to bolt if I reacted badly.
I gripped the wheel a little harder, then chuckled, “okay.”
Next thing I know, I have a little dust in my eye, but I held off for the sake of Jamie.
“Are you mad?”
I pondered my sons’ question. What sort of assumption is that? I love my son, no matter who he decides to love.
“Mad… Yes, I am. You didn’t tell me you had a BOYFRIEND.”
Jamie seemed to have perked up a little with my somewhat accepting behavior. I think he felt comfortable that I didn’t lash out. Am I doing it correctly? Is this how I am supposed to react, or should there be more emotional?
“So…?” Jamie inquired.
“So, I guess I’ll have to introduce myself.”
Then all I knew was that the happiness was sucked from the car, and Jamie began to cry. My heart swelled in my chest. It made me wonder how long he’d been holding onto this secret. God, now it made it near next to impossible to hold back my own flood. Wanting to reach out and give my boy a hug, to hold him, to let him know everything is okay, I wiped away a straggler tear. I placed my arm on his shoulder for comfort.
“Oh, don’t cry. If you do, I will; then we’ll really balls up my introduction.”
Jamie went to sob, but it was interrupted with a chuckle, so I laughed also. He wiped away some of his stray tears, and asked, “so, it’s okay?”
“It’s cool,” I chuckled. “As long as you don’t leave your old man to watch the football on his own.”
Both of us laughed, sensing the warming effects of acceptance floating around the interior of the vehicle. I can’t explain how much I adored my child at that moment, it made me appreciate being a parent even more. It was times like this that made me long for, even if they were hard to talk about.
“I’m so proud of you,” I added. I reached out, wiping his eyes clean.
“Yeah,” I said hoarsely.
“You know… you better go get your boyfriend before he thinks you stood him up.”
Jamie’s eyes widened.
“Does that mean we can go to the city?”
I removed my wallet, withdrew the money I promised and gave it to him.
“I’ll drive you,” I nodded.
Jamie smiled, I chuckled back. Miraculously he reached out, surprising me by wrapping his arms around me, dragging me into a hug. Now, this felt good. Hugs. I held him equally, kissed him on the crown of his head. My child is my child, no matter what they wish to identify as or who they love.
Seconds later, Jamie left the car, approached his boyfriend and spoke to him for a few seconds. To watch kids in love, it has to be the most adorable thing that can happen in front of your eyes. Yet, I knew they’d have some rocky roads to travel. Not everybody is going to be on board with the idea. Somehow it hurt, just watching them walk toward me. They are so brave.
The two boys crawled into the back of my car, there was a moment of silence. I wasn’t sure how to gage this meeting. How do I look? Let’s hope I don’t embarrass my son. When I turned around, Jamie locked eyes with me, then guided my attention to his boyfriend.
“Dad… this is Austin.”
I peered at the child in the backseat of my car, who happened to be petrified, holding his backpack with a death grip. A name tag on the rucksack said, Copeland. Austin Copeland was his full name. The kid was a pretty good-looking boy, brown hair, a bit on the long side, tanned with big chocolate eyes. My son apparently had good taste, I’ll give him that. Not wanting to terrify the kid any longer, I offer my hand out.
“Hey Austin, I’m George, it’s nice to meet you.”
Austin offered out a hand, we shook, his hand was a firm grip. We all smiled. Settled the nervousness of the car. The boys started to get a little giggly. Someone beeped from behind. Apparently, I was holding up everyone. I turned back around to start moving, but then I remembered something. Seriously, I turn back to the two lovers in the rear seat.
The two fell silent.
“I have one important rule; always buckle up in my car,” I smiled.
Austin and Jamie grinned as they hurried to fasten their seatbelts, as I pulled the car away from the curb to take the boys to the city for their first date.
So, well what happened tonight had surprised me, but I saw the boys kissing each other in Jamie’s bedroom. In an odd way, I am delighted my son had his first kiss.